The United States military is downplaying news of the deployment of a contingent of American soldiers to Somalia’s capital earlier this month, saying the troops have a logistical training role, not a combat role.
General Thomas Waldhauser, Commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), told journalists on a conference call on Thursday that the deployment was “routine” and part of a long-planned training operation.
“The troops sent to Somalia are actually logisticians who are spending time, what we call institution-building, training Somali National Army Forces on how to establish a logistical pipeline to ensure there are parts, to ensure operations are in fact supplied properly,” he said.
Waldhauser added, “This is part of a routine deployment that has been really in the works for quite some time… These are logisticians that are helping various organizations and the Somalian National Army become better at how to supply, how to account for equipment and so forth.”
The US commander also emphasized that the deployment was part of a broader international effort to grow the Somali National Army, not a standalone operation. “Turkey, UAE, EU, US, (and) AMISOM are all training forces in there. So it’s a combined effort,” said Waldhauser. “It’s a combined effort to get the numbers that are necessary so the Somalian National Army can take over security on their own.”
However, another US military official told Voice of America recently that there are additionally about 50 American counterterrorism advisers already in Somalia, whose role goes beyond logistics.
Charles Chuck Prichard, a spokesman for US Africa Command, said that the deployment of the additional logistics troops – “a few dozen” from the 101st Airborne Division – came at the request of the Somali national government.
In the meantime, Ambassador Francisco Madeira, the African Union envoy who heads the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), reiterated plans to withdraw international forces from Somalia starting next year.
“It is our plan to start the draw-down come 2018. The reason being that we were not, as General Waldhauser said, we were not intending to stay there forever. Somalia is for the Somalis. We, like all other Africans, we have our own countries. We are in solidarity with the Somali people, we need to support Somali people. We have interests to have a stable Somalia,” said the envoy.
“But surely, the Somalis, the country can only be best defended by the Somalis themselves, who understand better their dynamics, their reality and their priorities and their objectives. So we will have to leave sometime,” Madeira added, reemphasizing the date of 2018 as the start of the withdrawal.