MOGADISHU - The U.S. withdrawal of troops training Somalia's elite forces has raised concerns about security and stability in the country. But Somali officials and analysts note the country will still count on U.S. air power against al-Shabab militants.
Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble and senior defense officials in his government toured Balli-Dogle airbase south of the capital Mogadishu this month to thank U.S. forces before they withdrew.
The United States Africa Command on Sunday confirmed the estimated 700 U.S. troops in Somalia had been repositioned in the region, as ordered by President Donald Trump.
Officials say security cooperation between U.S. and Somali forces reduced the threat from Islamist militant group al-Shabab.
Somalia’s Information Minister Osman Dubbe said he expects U.S. military assistance will continue after this week’s pullout.
He said the withdrawal of U.S. troops is not a permanent decision nor is it the end of security and military cooperation. It’s a normal, technical maneuver, Dubbe said, adding that cooperation with Washington has been strengthening in recent years.
Somali officials say U.S. training and drone strikes targeting al-Shabab leaders and gatherings reduced hit-and-run attacks against African peacekeepers and Somali politicians.
No disruption is expected in the use of drone strikes, which the U.S. controls from outside of Somalia.
But security analysts worry the pullout of U.S. troops will give the militants an excuse to launch fresh attacks on international targets like African Union peacekeepers.
“If there will be no immediate replacement, the withdrawal of U.S. troops will not only affect the Somali security agencies, especially the elite force Danab that was provided with training, but also AU peacekeepers in the country, which heavily depended on U.S. air power in al-Shabab active regions in the south of the country,” said Abdisalam Gulaid, former deputy director of Somali National Intelligence.
With the withdrawal of American troops just ahead of next month’s presidential and parliamentary elections, security concerns have been growing.
Veteran Somali lawmaker Mohamed Omar Dalha said international security support must be maintained.
He said terrorism is not only a threat to our region - it is a global threat, which needs an international response that fills the gap left behind. Dalha added many Somalis hope the incoming U.S. president will renew Washington’s security role in Somalia.
The U.S. military said its troops in Somalia would be repositioned in the region, with its military base in Djibouti and a shared air base in Kenya as likely options.