PENTAGON - Dozens of American soldiers have deployed to Mogadishu to train and equip Somali and AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) forces fighting extremism in Somalia, U.S. military officials told VOA.
The troops' arrival marks the first presence of American military forces in Somalia, other than a small unit of counterterrorism advisers, since March 1994 when the U.S. pulled out of the U.N. intervention operation in the war-torn state, five months after 18 U.S. special forces personnel were killed in a battle with Somali militiamen that inspired the movie Black Hawk Down.
"United States Africa Command will conduct various security cooperation and/or security force assistance events in Somalia in order to assist our allies and partners," U.S. Africa Command spokesman Pat Barnes told VOA on Thursday.
The move is another example of the acceleration of U.S. efforts to help combat violent extremism across the globe, a second military official said. The goal of the operation is to build partner capacity while helping to improve the logistics of local forces battling the military group al-Shabab.
A few dozen troops from the 101st Airborne Division in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, arrived in Mogadishu on April 2 at the request of the Somali government, a U.S. military official told VOA.
The team is carrying out a train-and-equip mission that is expected to last through the end of September, according to the official.
Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy DeLeon, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, said the U.S. team will help instill the professionalism and discipline that the local force can use to create the terms for security.
"It gives them the tools to help themselves," DeLeon said in an interview with VOA.
The U.S. usually has a small unit of between 3 and 50 American troops in Somalia supporting U.S.-Somali military-to-military relations, and advising and assisting Somali troops. The new arrivals from the 101st Airborne Division will not be added to the mission of those Americans currently on the ground in Somalia, a military official said, "but there will be some overlap."
Last week, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed called on al-Shabab fighters to surrender within 60 days in return for education and jobs.
Days later, a car bomb targeted senior officials leaving a military base in Mogadishu, killing at least 15 people and destroying a minibus carrying civilians, the Somali military said. Al-Shabab militants claimed responsibility.
Battle of Mogadishu
The mission of the troops sent from 101st Airborne Division, who are training in logistics and not participating in combat or peacekeeping, is nothing like the United States' peacekeeping role in the country more than two decades earlier.
In the early 1990s, the United Nations attempted to provide and secure humanitarian relief in Somalia while monitoring a U.N.-brokered cease-fire in the Somali Civil War.
The U.S. deployed thousands of American troops to carry out these peacekeeping missions. By late 1993, the mission had expanded to try to restore a government in Somalia.
An American special operations team was sent into Mogadishu on October 3 to capture two top lieutenants of the warlord Mohammed Aidid.
During the mission, two Black Hawk helicopters circling overheard were shot down. Men sent to remove soldiers from the crash sites became pinned down elsewhere, and a 15-hour battle raged that killed 18 Americans and hundreds of Somalis.
Days later, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton announced that he would remove all American combat forces from Somalia by March 31. The U.S. has not sent combat troops for peacekeeping missions in the country since.