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somalia, exit, us military, military intervention, drones

Biden Shouldn’t Prolong US Intervention in Somalia

It’s time to bring this to an end.

Words: Scott McCann
Pictures: Manki Kim

On Tuesday, the US military conducted an airstrike against the militant group al-Shabab in the divided city of Galkayo, Somalia. While news headlines highlighted that the strike is the first in Somalia since President Joe Biden took office in January, most outlets failed to acknowledge that Biden was just joining the list of every American President to oversee military operations in Somalia since George HW Bush ordered US troops to the country in 1992.

Despite limitations for drone strikes set by the Biden administration upon taking office, the operation is the latest example of a misguided counterterrorism policy that consistently relies on the US military.

Since al-Shabab’s formation in 2006, the US has played an active role in securing the Somali federal government. Linked to al-Qaida, al-Shabab fiercely opposes any Western-backed national government in Somalia and seeks to impose a militant interpretation of Sharia law. The conflictual forces have produced disastrous results for the Somali people.

Tuesday’s strike is a response to a spike in violence perpetrated by al-Shabab throughout the country. However, the strike comes as the Biden administration considers whether to reverse the Trump administration’s last-minute decision to withdraw troops from Somalia.

There are numerous issues at play. First, there is the growing conflict between Kenya and Somalia. The dispute prompted Somalia to suspend all air travel from Kenya, including American military flights. The suspension prompted the Biden administration to reconsider Kenya’s reliability as the next station point for the troops withdrawn from Somalia.

The second issue for the US to consider is who controls Somalia. The government is often mocked for controlling only a few square blocks inside Mogadishu. Gunfire erupted in April between government and opposition forces when the former extended President Mohamed’s term another two years after having already suspended elections scheduled for February. The government eventually abandoned the mandate extension, and elections have been rescheduled. However, the precarious nature of the Somali government’s stability is apparent.

The current reality raises the question: Why is the US propping up a government that can’t secure its capital city, much less the whole country?

None of this even considers the unresolved issue surrounding the Somaliland autonomous region, which declared independence in 1991.

The current reality raises the question: Why is the US propping up a government that can’t secure its capital city, much less the whole country?

In a manner characteristic of many American foreign policy decisions, those in charge have considered a set of facts and have come to the incorrect conclusion. Furthermore, the actions taken thus far have produced counter-productive results. Following the airstrikes, al-Shabab has vowed to disrupt election activities that start Sunday. As has been demonstrated time and time again, an over-reliance on military action is not an effective strategy against terrorism.

The US must narrow the definition of its national security interest. Al-Shabab’s activity in Somalia does not threaten the security, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of the United States.

The US should consider withdrawing the troops from Kenya and establishing an offshore posture, not return ground troops to Somalia. The US should also abandon its military campaign against al-Shabab and allow the region to handle its problems. The US should offer diplomatic support to the Qatari delegation as it continues to mediate the Somali-Kenyan disputes. And above all, the US should not conduct any more airstrikes in Somalia and discard any plans to redeploy troops to the country. The only exception that should be made is in the event that a capable actor in Somalia legitimately threatens the US’s vital interests — but there’s nothing to suggest this standard will be met.

Scott McCann is a Marcellus Policy Fellow with the John Quincy Adams Society and a finalist for the Charles Koch Institute’s Koch Associate Program in foreign policy. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Louisiana State University and an M.A. in International Studies with concentrations in international security, intelligence, and conflict resolution from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

Scott McCann

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