AFRICOM Sends Warning to Al-Shabab as US Troops Begin Withdrawing from Somalia

The US announced a plan over the weekend to begin withdrawing the estimated 800 American troops from Somalia by early January. However, the warning from the insurgent group al-Shabab was: "You should not test us."
"We remain determined to help our African partners build a more secure future," Army General Stephen Townsend, head of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), said in a statement on Saturday. "We are still able to beat al-Shabab at the time and place of our choice - they shouldn't test us."
Townsend described the withdrawal of US troops from Somalia not as a withdrawal, but as a "targeted repositioning" of the armed forces to other bases in East Africa, most likely in neighboring Kenya.
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The ongoing threat from al-Shabab became apparent the day before Townsend announced a suicide bombing in the central Somali city of Galkayo that killed at least 10 people. Among the dead was Colonel Mukhtar Abdi Aden, Danab regional commander. the main Somali military unit trained by the US
The attack came shortly before Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble arrived in Galkayo to attend a political rally at a football stadium, according to Voice of America.
On December 4th, on orders from President Donald Trump, the Pentagon announced that the "majority" of US troops in Somalia who were training, advising and supporting a counter-terrorism mission would leave the country in the Horn of Africa .
"While the attitude of the armed forces is changing, this action is not a change in US policy," the Department of Defense said in the unassigned statement. "We will continue to dismantle violent extremist organizations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring that we maintain our strategic advantage in competing for great powers [against the growing influence of China and Russia in Africa]."
China has set up its first overseas naval base in Djibouti, about a mile from AFRICOM's main base in East Africa. Russia announced an agreement with Sudan earlier this month to set up a naval base in Port Sudan.
The announcement of Somalia's withdrawal followed Trump's orders to reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 and in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500 by January 15.
The drawdown in Somalia is also due to the fact that AFRICOM does not know where its headquarters will be in the coming year.
In June, Trump ordered the withdrawal of 9,500 soldiers from Germany, and then Secretary of Defense Mark Esper later increased the number to about 12,000. As part of the plan, AFRICOM was to relocate its headquarters from Stuttgart, but the next location was not determined.
President-elect Joe Biden will be empowered to change or reverse Trump's order to withdraw German troops with a separate executive order once he takes office on January 20. However, it is unclear whether he will.
In Saturday's announcement, Townsend said the withdrawal from Somalia would be called Operation Octave Quartz and will be led by Joint Task Force-Quartz under the command of Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, head of Special Operations Command-Africa (SOCAF).
"I have just returned from a visit to [Anderson] at his headquarters in East Africa where I met with Dag and his commanders to review their attitudes and plans. JTF-Quartz is ready to go," Townsend said.
At a forum held by the American Enterprise Institute in September, Anderson reported in detail on the huge challenges facing SOCAF and AFRICOM.
He warned of the resilience of al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab and other violent extremist organizations loyal to the Islamic State in the Sahel region in East and West Africa.
One of the difficulties in advocating a continued US military presence is defining "why Africa matters and explaining why it matters to us," Anderson said. "I think why we are paying attention is because al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have both stated that they intend to attack and undermine the United States, whether directly at home or in US interests abroad ", he said.
The Islamic State has lost much of its legitimacy after its defeats in Iraq and Syria, said Anderson. "And what they want to do is where do they find that legitimacy, where do they rebuild, and Africa offers them these opportunities," he said. "So we see them in the West - the Islamic State of Grand Sahara in the Mali region. We see them in the Islamic State of West Africa in northeastern Nigeria.
"But then, more troubling to me," added Anderson, "we see them as they expand along the east coast, the Swahili coast of Africa. And that's how we see them established in Somalia. We see them go." to Mozambique in Tanzania. And we see that these partners continue to expand and benefit each other. "
In Somalia, al-Shabab was largely contained in the lower Juba Valley, about 200 miles south of Mogadishu, he said.
The result was the creation of "a de facto safe haven for them, as it is very difficult to get into this terrain and it is very difficult to get there because the clan is composed, because the terrain itself, and just because how." . " They kind of consolidated down there, "said Anderson.
- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
Related: Army in Europe in search of a new mantra to include mission to Africa
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