17:53 GMT20 January 2021
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    The Pentagon and Congress have been debating for more than a year about what to do with the nearly 6,000 US military and civilian personnel in Africa. While US President Donald Trump recently ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Somalia, a leading Pentagon figure clarified they weren’t leaving the continent.

    Despite a number of recent policy shifts and amid an ongoing debate about the US’ military presence in Africa, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) will be getting a funding boost in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Pentagon funding bill already passed by the House and on which the Senate is due to vote.

    US military publication Stars and Stripes reported earlier this week that the new Pentagon budget adds $38.5 million to AFRICOM’s funding next year, giving it a total of $277.5 million; the Germany-based command only requested $239 million.

    By mid-January, most of the roughly 700 US troops deployed to Somalia to fight al-Qaeda-aligned al-Shabaab will be withdrawn from the country, according to orders given by Trump last month. Trump has pledged to end longstanding US overseas conflicts, including the undeclared war in Somalia the US has been fighting since 2007.

    However, the US military is not withdrawing from East Africa, AFRICOM commander Gen. Stephen Townsend told the Military Times. “Our presence in Somalia will decrease significantly but US forces will remain in the region and our tasks and commitment to partners remain unchanged … This action is not a withdrawal and an end to our efforts but a reposition to continue our efforts in East Africa.”

    The US also has forces stationed across the border in Kenya at bases such as Camp Simba, which came under attack in January by al-Shabaab forces that crossed the border. The raid destroyed several aircraft used to wage the US’ war in Somalia and killed one US soldier and two American contractors.

    Using the justification of al-Shabaab expanding the war, AFRICOM commanders reportedly have pushed to expand their operations into Kenya as well, the New York Times reported in September, citing unnamed American officials.

    Other AFRICOM bases in East Africa include Chembelly and Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti; Mombasa, Kenya; and Entebbe, Uganda.

    The decision also comes as US Army Europe and US Army Africa are merged into a single command - US Army Europe and Africa - and AFRICOM looks for a new headquarters amid the shifting of several thousand US troops out of Germany. AFRICOM is presently based in Stuttgart after no African country would accept the headquarters on its soil.

    In the longer term, some Pentagon officials want to see almost all US troops removed from Africa. In January 2020, then-US Defense Secretary Mark Esper revealed he wanted to move as many US troops as possible from peacekeeping duties and patrols to confronting Russia and China, which he called “mission number one.”

    US lawmakers have pushed back, saying the troops cannot be spared, since Daesh could become stronger in their absence, or even that Russia or China could establish footholds. However, the Pentagon is also attempting to train local surrogate forces to take over many of the duties of active duty US troops under its 127 Echo program.

    Related:

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    Tags:
    al-Shabaab, US troops, Somalia, budget, US Africa Command (AFRICOM)
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