The United States military has deployed a group of navy ships off the coast of Somalia to support the withdrawal of some 700 personnel from the country, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
The amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island and accompanying ships arrived off the Horn of Africa on Monday, 16 days after President Donald Trump ordered the pullout of troops who had been in Somalia for years conducting operations against the al-Shabab armed group.
The naval group is to help relocate the US military and civilian personnel from Somalia “to other East Africa operating locations while maintaining pressure on violent extremists and supporting partner forces”, the US Africa Command said in a statement.
Major General Dagvin Anderson, commander of the removal operation dubbed Joint Task Force-Quartz, said the arrival of the group “demonstrates our resolve to support our partners and protect our forces through this transition”.
On December 4, Trump issued an order that Africom “reposition the majority of personnel and assets out of Somalia by early 2021”.
The move came as Trump has sought to wind down US military engagements abroad during his final weeks in office.
He ordered US troop levels to be slashed by mid-January in Afghanistan and Iraq, to 2,500 troops in both cases.
Africom Commander General Stephen Townsend underscored Saturday that the US was not pulling out of the region.
“To be clear, the US is not withdrawing or disengaging from East Africa. We remain committed to helping our African partners build a more secure future. We also remain capable of striking al-Shabab at the time and place of our choosing – they should not test us,” he said.
Most of the 700 personnel departing Somalia will be rebased in Kenya or Djibouti, where they will be able to continue pressuring al-Shabab.
For several years, the US forces, working with Somali government forces, have used drones to mount attacks on the group.
Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller visited Somalia in late November, where he “reaffirmed US resolve in seeing the degradation of violent extremist organizations that threaten US interests, partners, and allies in the region”.