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CONFIRMED: US troops deployed to Somalia

Commander US Africa Command Gen. Thomas Waldhauser. AFRICOM confirmed the new deployment in Somalia.

‘A few dozen’ US troops deployed to Somalia: Pentagon

Washington, United States | AFP |  The United States is deploying “a few dozen” troops to Somalia to assist the national army and conduct unspecified security operations, a US military spokeswoman said Saturday.

The soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division, a light infantry unit trained for air assaults, will mainly train and equip Somalia’s army “to better fight Al-Shabab,” an Al-Qaeda linked extremist group, the spokeswoman for the US Africa Command based in Germany, Samantha Reho, told AFP.

They will also conduct “security force assistance,” she said, confirming a report by Voice of America.

“For operational security issues, we will not discuss specifics of military efforts nor speculate on potential future activities or operations,” she said, declining to say precisely how many troops were being sent.

Somalia’s fragile central government is still propped up by the international community and a 22,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force after nearly three decades of civil war and anarchy.

While Shabab militants have lost large swaths of territory and were forced out of Mogadishu by African Union troops in 2011, they continue to strike in the capital and countryside.

They have threatened a “merciless” war against the new administration of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a dual US-Somali citizen who goes by the nickname Farmajo. He took office in February.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a dual US-Somali citizen who goes by the nickname Farmajo.

The 101st Airborne Division has been extensively used in US-led military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The United States’ most notorious military operation in Somalia was in 1993, when an ill-fated attempt to snatch militia leaders led to two Black Hawk helicopters being shot down in Mogadishu. A chaotic rescue was mounted, resulting in hundreds of deaths, including those of 18 US soldiers. The incident was made famous in the book and the movie “Black Hawk Down.”

The US military spokeswoman noted that US forces have been in Somalia since 1993, helping the Somali government on security concerns.

Somalia troops being trained recently

The US preparing for AMISOM pull out

In June, the United States appointed its first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years.

According to AFRICOM, up to 40 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division have been dispatched to Somalia as efforts intensify to improve the capabilities of local forces entrenched in a multiyear battle with Islamic militants.

While the U.S. military has long maintained a small, quiet presence in Somalia, with training efforts going back to about 2007, those efforts have begun to creep out of the shadows. In 2014, the military publicly acknowledged an ongoing effort to train Somali forces and lethal airstrikes that were once highly secretive started to be accompanied by news releases after the fact.

The forward presence of U.S. forces in Somalia coincides with a spike in airstrikes against al-Shabab, which was the target of at least 14 strikes or raids in 2016 compared with only a handful a year earlier.

AFRICOM’s stepped up efforts are linked to a push to prepare Somali forces to carry on the mission against al-Shabab without the backing of Africa Union troops, who could be pulling out of the country in the coming years.

The union’s mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, involves a mix of regional armies, including troops from Kenya and Uganda, was key to pushing Shabab out of various former strongholds.

The African Union has said it expects to begin pulling out forces in 2018.

Five years ago, Shabab threatened to overrun Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu, but the AU proved effective in delivering a series of defeats that had the militants on the defensive. More recently, Shabab has begun to reassert itself.

With expanded powers from the White House to carry out strikes, it is likely that AFRICOM could be stepping up operations in the months ahead.

**additional reporting STARS AND STRIPES

 

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