Pentagon official: Trump’s Somalia withdrawal ‘probably’ had ‘significant downsides’

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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)

The Trump administration’s movement of most U.S. troops out of Somalia to other countries in Africa “probably” had “significant downsides,” a Pentagon official said Thursday.

“From my perspective, there is probably significant downsides to the pullout from the perspective of cost and effectiveness,” Christopher Maier, acting assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “But that’s my initial look, and this will have to be an interagency look.”

In the final months of his tenure, former President Trump ordered almost all of the 700 U.S. troops that were in Somalia to withdraw. The troops were in Somalia to help local security forces fight al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab and the local ISIS affiliate.

At the time, the Pentagon insisted Trump’s order was “not a change in U.S. policy” and U.S. Africa Command held that troops “remain capable of striking al-Shabaab at the time and place of our choosing—they should not test us.”

While Trump framed the move as part of his efforts to end “forever wars,” most of the U.S. troops that left Somalia were repositioned to other nearby countries such as Kenya and Djibouti and have continued to conduct operations inside Somalia.

The Biden administration is in the midst of a review of U.S. military posture around the globe that could result in a reversal of Trump’s withdrawal or other changes to the U.S. military footprint in Africa.

Maier, who led the Pentagon’s ISIS task force during the Trump administration until he was fired in Trump’s post-election Pentagon purge and was brought back into the department by Biden, alluded to the posture review as he spoke Thursday about the Somalia withdrawal.

The effect of withdrawing from Somalia “is something that is being looked at both from the counterterrorism perspective, and the broader regional objectives we have in the Horn of Africa,” Maier said

Maier, who said “one of the benefits of a beginning of a new administration” are posture reviews, also said one of the “key elements” of the global review is balancing “the need to continue to protect the American public, citizens, our interests against the al Qaedas and ISIS and their affiliates that are still out there” with pivoting the military toward so-called great power competition against Russia and China.

Maier was responding to questions from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who in a rare break with Trump opposed the Somalia withdrawal.

Inhofe told Maier he’d like to be “in on” the Biden administration’s Somalia review, highlighting how he disagreed with Trump on the issue.

“I was pretty outspoken when that decision was made, and I’d like to see how we are doing on that,” Inhofe said.