After Most US Troops Pull Out of Somalia, Some Reenter for Training Event

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U.S. service members provide training to East African forces in Somalia on Jan. 30, 2021.
U.S. service members provide training to East African forces in Somalia on Jan. 30, 2021. AFRICOM forces continue to train, advise and support Somali and other East African partners in their fight against violent extremism. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Hannah Strobel)

The U.S. military on Sunday held its first training engagement in Somalia after the recent drawdown of most American troops stationed there, Africa Command announced Monday.

"Our first engagement back into Somalia so quickly after the repositioning shows we remain committed to our Somali and regional partners and support their fight against violent extremism," U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, head of Special Operations Command Africa, said in a release.

The bilateral agreement between the two nations allows the U.S. to provide a variety of training, advice and support to the Somali National Army Danab forces, officials said. U.S. troops also aided the Danab forces on future operational plans, the release states. Citing operational security, an AFRICOM spokesman declined to comment on the number of troops participating in the event.

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In December, the Defense Department confirmed that former President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of an estimated 700 personnel from Somalia.

In a statement, the DoD said "the majority" of troops in Somalia would be withdrawn, leaving the possibility that a small number would remain in Mogadishu for a continuing advise and assist mission with Somali forces. It's not clear how many remain in Somalia, but those who were withdrawn were largely relocated to neighboring Kenya and other nearby countries.

Officials referred to the recent downsizing of the U.S. footprint a "successful repositioning."

"Our mission has not changed," Anderson said. "We will support our partners no matter where we have a physical presence. We look forward to continuing our strong partnerships across the region in our collective fight against extremism."

The recent training occurred the same day as an attack in the Somali capital.

At least two civilians and a security guard were killed during the assault on Mogadishu's Hotel Afrik on Sunday, according to a report from Agence France-Presse. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, which began with a car bomb exploding in front of the hotel. Multiple gunmen then stormed the building and opened fire, AFP said.

Last month, AFRICOM's East Africa Response Force completed an emergency response exercise in Mogadishu, according to the release. The Jan. 22 exercise "demonstrated the ability to rapidly deploy forces to protect U.S. interests in Somalia," it said.

Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the AFRICOM commander, said the commitment of the U.S. military to the region will continue.

"To be clear, the U.S. is not withdrawing or disengaging from East Africa," Townsend said in a Dec. 19 statement. "We remain committed to helping our African partners build a more secure future."

That same month, U.S. aircraft carried out two airstrikes against a stronghold of al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab rebels, AFRICOM said. Officials said the strikes targeted "explosives experts" near the town of Jilib, about 207 miles southwest of Mogadishu in the Lower Juba valley.

On New Year's day, the U.S. conducted its third airstrike in roughly a month's time.

"This action clearly demonstrates our continuing commitment to Somalia and our regional partners," Army Maj. Gen. Joel Tyler, director of operations for AFRICOM, said of the Jan. 1 strike.

The U.S. conducted at least 51 airstrikes in Somalia last year, compared to 63 in 2019 and 47 in 2018, according to AFRICOM.

-- Richard Sisk contributed to this report.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

Related: US Military Says its Troop Removal from Somalia is Complete

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