Hundreds of U.S. troops in Somalia will be moved out of Somalia and into neighboring countries, the Defense Department announced on Friday.
President Donald Trump ordered defense officials to reposition most of the personnel and equipment out of Somalia by early 2021. Officials say the change will not equal a withdrawal from Africa.
"While a change in force posture, this action is not a change in U.S. policy," a news release announcing the change states. "We will continue to degrade violent extremist organizations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring we maintain our strategic advantage in great power competition."
There are currently about 700 troops deployed to Somalia. They're now expected to move to bases in Kenya and Djibouti, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on Trump's order Friday. From those locations, troops will "enter Somalia to conduct shorter counterterrorism missions against al-Shabaab, as well as a smaller force of Islamic State militants," the paper reported.
Pentagon officials said on Friday that some forces may be reassigned outside of East Africa.
U.S. troops have been deploying to Somalia for more than a decade to combat terror threats. Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller visited the country during a November trip to Africa and the Middle East.
While there, Miller "reaffirmed U.S. resolve in seeing the degradation of Violent Extremist Organizations that threaten U.S. interests, partners, and allies in the region, and the importance of the international community's continuing efforts on this front," the Defense Department said in a news release following his stop.
This is the third hotspot from which Trump has ordered U.S. troops to withdraw in recent weeks. Last month, Miller said troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan would be reduced to 2,500 personnel in each country by Jan. 15.
Al-Shabaab terrorists, who are affiliated with al-Qaida, remain active in Somalia, along with an Islamic State-linked group. Al-Shabaab, according to a Defense Department inspector general report released in late November, "remains adaptive, resilient, and capable of attacking Western and partner interests in Somalia and East Africa."
U.S. troops train, advise, accompany and equip Somali forces in their fight against al-Shabaab. Experts expressed dismay when it became apparent Trump was weighing removing U.S. troops from the country, The Associated Press recently reported.
Defense officials said moving troops to neighboring countries will "allow cross-border operations by both U.S. and partner forces to maintain pressure against violent extremist organizations operating in Somalia."
"The U.S. will retain the capability to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations in Somalia, and collect early warnings and indicators regarding threats to the homeland," Friday's announcement about troop withdrawal states.