As published by Middle East Institute
Non-Resident Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Yemen Steering Initiative
The Somalia-based terrorist organization al-Shabab (“the Youth”), which pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2012, has killed numerous Americans in East Africa, including in an attack in January 2020 in neighboring Kenya.
Al-Shabab is currently the most prominent and wealthiest al-Qaeda affiliate, and it continues to grow and acquire more territory. It has rolled back the gains that the Somali government and the African Union, with the support of the United States Special Operations Command and the CIA, made over many years.
Terrorist organizations are far from over. They are expanding worldwide and the threat of attacks is rising. The need for us to continue our counterterrorism efforts hasn’t changed. One substantial attack in the U.S. would emphatically make this point, and the argument about unilaterally declaring victory over terrorism would be over.
Even though our National Defense Strategy (NDS) rightfully places terrorism as a lesser priority than near-peer (or strategic) competitors, the enemy gets a vote. These groups are still in existence, and they are growing. It was a mistake to withdraw our forces from Somalia entirely in 2020, just like it was a mistake to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan in 2021.
Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the commander of Africa Command, stated that remote training was not practical. It was ineffective in stemming al-Shabab’s expansion or collecting intelligence on threats coming from this terrorist organization. It also put his forces and other forces at more risk to conduct operations in this manner.
Al-Shabab still has aspirations to conduct attacks against the U.S. and Somalia’s neighbors. The near-constant rhetoric in Washington, D.C. about the need to “pivot” to other areas of the world, like the Indo-Pacific, is a false choice. U.S. military expenditure in 2021 was more than double that of China and Russia combined. We can do all our listed priorities in the NDS, near-peer, rogue states, and countering terrorism.
The decision to send U.S. special operations forces back into the country in May 2022 to work with our key Somali partners and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was the right one.
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