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US back in Somalia (with Italy) to counter Al-Shabaab

US Somalia al Shabaab
President Biden and the Pentagon reversed the Trump-era pullout to help stabilise the country and counter Chinese penetration. And Rome is evaluating whether to reinforce its police training mission, explained Nicola Pedde (IGS)

The US goes back to Somalia. On Monday, Joe Biden’s White House approved the redeployment of a small military force in the Horn of Africa State, reversing a Trump-era decision. It’s about terrorism:

  • There’s growing concern over the threat of al-Shabaab (the Youth), a local terrorist network comprising five to ten thousand members, directly linked to Al-Qaeda.
    • US officials believe it’s also the largest and most well-funded among Al-Qaeda’s affiliates.
  • The terror group frequently carries out attacks across Somalia and neighbouring countries. It has also kidnapped and enslaved over 600 women since 2018 and directly attacked a US military base in 2020.

Why now? The Pentagon was never happy about Mr Trump’s decision to leave Somalia. Here’s the reasoning for changing the Trump-era approach, which US officials labelled as “irrational”:

  • As four-star General Stephen Towsend, head of AFRICOM, told the Senate in March, what the US was doing in Somalia was “ineffective”: the Army was training local forces and participating in in-n-out operations on a rotational basis, which stifled the outcome of the operations.

Permanent instability… Former leader Hassan Sheikh Mohamud returned to office on Monday after a tortuous and stifled election process, which couldn’t have been carried out more appropriately due to security concerns.

  • Meanwhile, al-Shabaab has been expanding its activities by exploiting the chaotic condition of the region – creating potential threats of action in the West, and against Western interests, within that highly strategic quadrant.

… and Chinese penetration. Washington’s motives also include offering Mogadishu an alternative to Beijing’s model. Chinese investments come with strings attached and a refusal to contribute to local security, and the US, along with other Western nations, strive to grant the exact opposite.

  • The US realises that competing with terrorism is crucial to stabilisation, without which Africa’s potential cannot be realised.

To sum it up: by redeploying a small force of 450 Navy Seals, the US intends to strengthen institutions, enabling it to better confront terrorists and improve its direct dialogue with Somalia – one that’s qualitatively better than that of other countries, such as China.

Italy’s contribution: the expert’s take. Aside from nurturing the historical, cultural and commercial ties with the nations in the Horn of Africa, Italy has been training the Somalian police forces as part of the MIADIT mission, which also includes Djibouti.

  • According to Nicola Pedde, Director of the Institute for Global Studies, the Horn has always been “an area of theoretical priority” for Italy. However, turning these priorities into concrete political and military commitments has always been difficult.
    • “The Ethiopian crisis, the situation in Eritrea, shifting international balances and asymmetric support for the Horn’s countries have created additional complexities.”
  • Once Rome learns the exact terms of the US redeployment, it can consider strengthening its contribution via MIADIT, said the expert.

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