American troops will closely work with the Kenya Defense Forces [KDF] in combating Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militants, it has emerged, just six months after Washington withdrew soldiers from Somalia under unclear circumstances.
Former President Donald Trump, through an executive order, ordered for the withdrawal of the troops in what he termed as a “cost-saving” strategy. The US had about 700 troops from the US Africa Command in Somalia, whose main duty was to help in aerial surveillance and training Somali National Army [SNA].
Although the Al-Shabaab militants have been mainly targeting security forces and innocent civilians in Somalia, they often carry out high-profile attacks in neighboring countries such as Kenya. The East Africa nation has close to 3,500 soldiers in Somalia.
And US President Joe Biden has announced the deployment of American special troops to Kenya to help in the region’s counter-terrorism efforts. It’s not clear how many soldiers will be deployed to Kenya.
In a letter to the US Congress seen by the Sunday Nation, President Biden said that he had approved sending special operations troops to Kenya, which is expected to collaborate with the Kenyan military in combating Al-Shabaab. The number of troops is not indicated.
The US deployment is expected to be a security boost for Kenya, which has in recent years suffered deadly gun and bomb attacks from Al-Shabaab. The Somalia-based group is known to have sympathizers in Kenya.
Al-Shabaab has been attacking Somali government and military targets but occasionally launches high-profile assaults in neighboring states, including Kenya. North Eastern Kenya and parts of the Coast have particularly been targeted by the terrorists, but there have previously been high-profile attacks in Nairobi, including at Westgate Mall in 2013 and the DusitD2 Complex in 2019.
Al-Shabaab has publicly declared intent to conduct attacks in retaliation to Kenya’s counter-terrorism operations in Somalia, which it conducts as part of the African Union Mission (Amisom) and may be emboldened following the announced US withdrawal of forces from Somalia last year.
The US defended her withdrawal decision in January arguing that the soldiers would be repositioned in Djibouti and Kenya for the Al-Shabaab war. However, a number of high-ranking government officials faulted the move, with President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo arguing that the move would “erode” successes made in the Al-Shabaab war.
The new Biden administration, which has publicly maintained it considers Kenya a “strategic” partner in the fight against terrorism, has embarked on the reversal of many policies that had been rolled out by Mr. Trump.
“In furtherance of counter-terrorism efforts, the United States continues to work with partners around the globe, with a particular focus on the United States Central and Africa Commands’ areas of responsibility,” explained President Biden in his letter to the US Congress on Tuesday.
“In this context, the United States has deployed forces to conduct counter-terrorism operations and to advise, assist, and accompany security forces of select foreign partners on counter-terrorism operations…The United States Armed Forces are deployed to Kenya to support counter-terrorism operations in East Africa.”
The War Powers Resolution requires the US President to consult Congress before introducing armed forces into “hostilities” or “situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances,” and to notify Congress within 48 hours of having done so.
These reports, known as “48-hour reports,” are also required when the President sends forces abroad “while equipped for combat” or “in numbers which substantially enlarge” existing combat-equipped deployments — the idea being to enable Congress to police the slippery slopes that can lead the nation to war.
Al-Shabaab still controls large swathes of rural central and southern Somalia, with the current administration being accused of failing to combat the militants. The group still collects taxes in several towns besides controlling sections of the capital Mogadishu.
“For the past four years, Al-Shabaab has been given an opportunity to collect taxes and extort business. In my tenure, Al-Shabaab was on the run,” said former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was the chief guest in a Twitter Space conversation organized by Garowe Online on Saturday.