The Pentagon has sent several naval vessels and a marine expeditionary unit to the coast of Somalia to support an operation repositioning hundreds of U.S. troops to bases elsewhere in East Africa.
The USS Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit reached Somali waters on Monday. It joined the USS Hershel Woody Williams, an expeditionary sea base that arrived on December 16, according to the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).
The vessels are supporting Operation Octave Quartz, with a mission to relocate U.S. forces in Somalia “while maintaining pressure on violent extremists and supporting partner forces,” the Pentagon said in a statement Tuesday.
In November, it was announced that U.S. President Donald Trump planned to draw down U.S. troops in Somalia, part of an effort to pull back forces globally — including in Afghanistan and Iraq — before he leaves office on January 20. The United States has approximately 700 military personnel in Somalia to train Somali troops and conduct counterterrorism missions.
The Pentagon has sought to reassure Somalis of its continued support in strengthening their forces and degrading the al-Shabab militant group.
The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group consists of three vessels, including the amphibious assault ship of the same name. Combined with the expeditionary sea base USS Williams, they have nearly 5,000 troops to conduct maritime security operations.
The vessels have the combined “capability to boost firepower and protect and enable the repositioning of U.S. forces,” AFRICOM spokesperson Col. Christopher P. Karns told VOA Somali Service in an email Tuesday. “Also, if provoked, (they can) strike al-Shabab terrorists swiftly and with precision.
“For this operation, a full range of military capability is available to project power from sea, land or air,” he wrote. “… The ability to bring forth robust capability quickly should reassure partners. Also, al-Shabab should take notice and recognize what awaits those seeking to do harm. U.S. forces are clear-eyed and focused on completing this mission. U.S. Africa Command has an ability to bring forth added capability as situations warrant.”
Karns declined to provide details about AFRICOM’s strategy or timeline. But he insisted it would continue to develop Somali forces and conduct airstrikes against the militant group.
Concerns over drawdown
The U.S. troop drawdown in Somalia and its timing have sparked concerns.