April 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. military authorized an additional 40 ground troops be deployed in Somalia, the largest presence in the African country since the 1993 incident known as Black Hawk Down.
The Pentagon said 40 soldiers from the Fort Campbell, Ky.,-based 101st Airborne Division would be deployed to Somalia to help assist the fledgling central government's armed forces with logistical training and support in its ongoing fight against the terrorist group al-Shabab.
The soldiers will not train Somali soldiers in actual combat tactics, Stars and Stripes reported.
Since Black Hawk Down under former President Bill Clinton, during which two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in the Somali capital Mogadishu and 18 U.S. soldiers were killed, the Pentagon has largely walked away from Somalia. The country collapsed into a failed state with no legitimate government and a series of warring militias each controlling their own portion of land.
Of late, however, a central government has formed in Mogadishu and has sought to confront the militant members of al-Shabab, an affiliate of al-Qaida, that had gained control of much of the country and was advancing on the capital. Seeking to support that effort, the Pentagon under former President Barack Obama stepped up stealth drone attacks against suspected al-Shabab leaders, initially without public acknowledgment. Eventually, the Obama administration began acknowledging drone strikes in Somalia after the fact.
Stars and Stripes reported the 101st deployment was at the request of the Somali military. While U.S. troops do not have a direct combat role on the ground, the Pentagon has acknowledged U.S. troops have accompanied Somali soldiers on missions against al-Shabab targets. Somali troops have received combat support instead from the African Union, which spearheaded the initial offensive to prevent Mogadishu from coming under terrorist control in 2013.
While a nominal U.S. military presence in the country has persisted, last June the United States named its first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years, a signal the central government was viewed as legitimate and has the backing of the West.