14 April 2019

Somalia: U.S. Military Mission Could Take Seven Years to Complete

Somali national army soldiers stand in formation during a logistics course graduation ceremony. Soldiers from Somali???s advanced infantry DANAB battalion spent 14 weeks training with the U.S. 10th Mountain division on the importance of logistical operation as well as the operation and maintenance of heavy equipment. (Photo by MC2 (SW/AW) Evan Parker. Released)

This week President Donald Trump signed an executive order extending a presidential declaration of a national emergency concerning Somalia for another year, calling the Islamist insurgency plaguing that country an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to the US.

But even if that is the last extension of the declaration, US defense officials say the mission in the country is likely to take years to complete.

The fight there hinges on US Special Operations Forces being able to train an elite Somali army unit capable of defeating al Qaeda-linked militants on the ground.

The commitment to the East African nation comes after the President has signaled a desire to reduce US troop levels across the globe and as the administration is in the process of withdrawing forces from Syria.

While officials say the effort is making progress, they tell CNN that the US training mission is likely to not be completed until 2026.

For nearly two years, a small team of US Special Operations forces has been embedded with the Somali National Army, assisting in the fight against the militant group Al-Shabaab.

As well as advising on airstrikes and ground assaults, the Navy SEAL-led team's primary task is to train and build Somalia its own elite light infantry force.

Named Danab, which in Somali means lightning, the force currently numbers only about 500 soldiers, too few to carry out operations in a country with a coastline almost as long as the east coast of the US.

The plan, US defense officials say, is to eventually build Danab into a force of 3,000 soldiers capable of clearing militants from villages and towns across Somalia.

The Pentagon has about 500 to 600 personnel in Somalia according to US Africa Command.

While US military advisers have been in Somalia since at least 2013, the effort has gotten a major boost under the Trump Administration, which volunteered to undertake the Danab advisory mission in 2017 in addition to expanding drone strikes, and in December reopened the American diplomatic mission in Mogadishu for the first time since 1991.

Trump authorized the military to carry out precision strikes targeting Al-Shabaab in March 2017. Prior to that, the US military was authorized to conduct airstrikes only in defense of advisers on the ground.

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