The Biden Administration is sending hundreds of U.S. soldiers back into Somalia to “advise and assist” and on a “training mission” for African forces fighting the Somalian resistance group Al-Shabab. The Pentagon announced the decision during a recent press briefing. However, Africa watchers say it’s a bad move considering America’s sordid history in Somalia and the Horn of Africa region.
Pentagon officials said the U.S. military has advised and assisted on security matters in Somalia on an ad hoc arrangement—traveling into the country when needed and then leaving afterward which will change to one of “persistent presence” in the country, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
“The president has authorized the Department of Defense to return a small, persistent U.S. military presence to Somalia,” Mr. Kirby told reporters during the May 16 briefing.
“Our forces are not now, nor will they be, directly engaged in combat operations. The purpose here is to enable a more effective fight against al-Shabab by local forces,” said Mr. Kirby. When the deployment will happen was left unsaid.
Branded a terrorist group by Washington, Al-Shabaab has been a dominant group of armed resistance against U.S. influence in the affairs of Somalia. The group has waged struggles against African nations like Ethiopia and Kenya, which at times aligned themselves with U.S. interventions in Somalia.
While fielding questions about the move at a time when America is also in the middle of the Russian-Ukraine fray in Eastern Europe, the Pentagon spokesman denied the redeployment is a combat mission, but only a “repositioning of forces” already in the Horn of Africa.
The U.S. decision was announced one day after Somalia’s parliament elected a pro-American former president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, on May 15 defeating incumbent Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmaajo, in three rounds of parliamentary voting.
Observers question whether the redeployment is for regional security concerns or American geopolitical gangsterism in Africa. Somalia has been a long-time target of U.S. meddling. Critics of U.S. militarism on the continent say the move represents a consistent U.S. policy that has handicapped Somalia into years of destabilization and chaos.
“U.S. troops need to stay out of Africa … whether it’s in the form of this AFRICOM or whether it’s this deployment to Somalia,” said Bill Fletcher Jr., political analyst and past president of TransAfrica Forum.
“The situation in Somalia is fundamentally not going to be resolved militarily, which is something that repeated U.S. governments seem to ignore,” he said.
Mr. Fletcher reasons that it is not simply about only pulling troops out like former President Donald Trump did. Five days before leaving office he withdrew almost all the estimated 700 troops from Somalia in what he argued was wasted money on endless wars.
“It’s about the issue of giving support to negotiations … some sort of peaceful transition,” Mr. Fletcher suggested. “And this is where the U.S. keeps falling short,” he added.
America tends to do one of two things, either believe a military solution is the only solution or just simply pull out and have nothing to do with what’s going on there, Mr. Fletcher explained.
There have been public campaigns by groups like the Black Alliance For Peace and other antiwar voices calling for AFRICOM—the U.S. military command—to leave Africa.
However, some argue there is a necessity for U.S. troops to fight militants in Africa and train government forces to protect their lands from becoming safe places for terrorist groups. But others see the necessity as a two-edged-sword.
Political analyst Abayomi Azikiwe told The Final Call that legitimate concerns about extremism and terrorism is also a pretext for America to maintain its presence and influence in Africa. He pointed out extremists are threats to stability in Africa as seen in the violent tumult in Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo and problems in the Central African Republic, Chad, and Libya.
“Nonetheless, the African people themselves … their governments, and their military structures have to deal with these threats,” said Mr. Azikiwe.
The presence of foreign powers like the U.S., France and others in the conflicts pose wider problems.
Some African nations are turning to Russia for security, consultation, and assistance, explained Mr. Azikiwe. This is a problem for America and France because they considered the Sahel Region and other parts of Africa as their military stomping grounds.
“People are starting to realize that the security conditions have worsened since the advent of AFRICOM [and] Operation Barkhane, under France,” observed Mr. Azikiwe.
Earlier this year, France moved to withdraw thousands of troops from Mali due to a breakdown in relations with the country, a decade after launching a war without the initial approval of the United Nations or even the French parliament, said PressTV.
A French mission began in Mali in 2013 to allegedly fight militants that Paris claimed were linked to al-Qaeda terrorist group.
Another reason for U.S. boots on the ground in Somalia is to shore up countering China for influence and control of the Horn of Africa in the “great power competition” of nations that includes Russia.
Alongside the U.S. and China competition includes European and Middle Eastern powers who also have strategic economic, political and military interests in the region. Somalia is rich in oil and its strategic access to major waterways for trade between Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia makes it important. These trade routes are indispensable to the global system of economics.
“So, they’re very concerned … they have systematically intervened in the internal affairs of Somalia for decades,” said Mr. Azikiwe.
American fingerprints are on the region’s troubles, and the instability of Somalia, one of the world’s most impoverished nations. The redeployment comes amid crises in Somalia and the region stemming partly from the Russia-Ukraine war. The economic fallout from the war is hitting Africa hard by way of food deficits. Russia and Ukraine were major suppliers of wheat, grains, maize and agricultural inputs like fertilizer and machinery.
Meanwhile drought has engulfed Somalia, and America, the world’s strongest economic player, is expending resources for troop redeployment in Somalia and funding war in Ukraine.
While attention is transfixed on Eastern Europe, experts lament the world’s asleep to what’s happening across Eastern Africa, where people are dying from conflict, famine, and drought.
A May 13 conference of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an eight-country trade bloc in East Africa, said the drought crisis is dire and desperately needs resources. The bloc told regional governments and international donors it needs $6.3 billion to address the drought situation in the region which is an increase to what has been given.
IGAD estimates that 7.7 million people are food insecure in Somalia, 8.1 million in Ethiopia, 3.5 million in Kenya, 8.9 million in South Sudan, 10.6 million in Sudan, and 1.6 million in Uganda.
Consider that just three percent of the total $4.4 billion of a United Nations 2022 appeal for Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya had been funded as of May 10.
Mr. Fletcher said the Congressional Black Caucus “could and should” play a role in addressing these kinds of conflicts and the African Union should be more proactive in not just securing the peace with African troops, but in bringing the parties together.
“I think what progressive people need to be thinking about is, how can the United States support peaceful efforts, whether it’s in Somalia or Libya, or any number of other places where there is civil conflict?” said Mr. Fletcher.