U.S. Army soldiers discuss security patrol operations during a security patrol stop in Somalia in December 2019. File Photo by Tech. Sgt. Nick Kibbey/U.S. Air Force
May 16 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden has signed an order redeploying hundreds of Special Operations forces into Somalia after his predecessor Donald Trump withdrew troops from the country during his presidency, reports said Monday.
"President Biden has approved a request from the Secretary of Defense to reestablish a persistent U.S. military presence in Somalia to enable a more effective fight against al-Shabab, which has increased in strength and poses a heightened threat," a senior administration official told The Hill in a statement.
"This is a repositioning of forces already in theater who have traveled in and out of Somalia on an episodic basis since the previous administration made the decision to withdraw in January 2021."
The news was first reported by The New York Times, which reported that Biden has also given the Pentagon the authority to target about a dozen suspected leaders of the Somali terrorist group, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda, who are suspected of developing plots for attacks outside Somalia's borders.
Sources told The New York Times that at most 450 troops would return to Somalia. Trump had ordered the 700 troops stationed in the country to withdraw by early 2021 before Biden took office.
Since the withdrawal from Somalia, small missions have been conducted to train Somali and African Union forces amid political instability in the country.
Biden's decision to return troops to Somalia comes less than a year after he ordered troops to withdraw from Afghanistan to end the "forever war," leading the Taliban to seize control of the country from the U.S.-backed government.
A senior administration official said the decision to return troops to Somalia comes amid a significantly different scenario from Afghanistan, The New York Times reported.
The Taliban has not expressed an intention of attacking the United States and al-Shabab poses a more significant threat to the United States and its allies, the senior administration official told the Times.
U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, detailed the threats al-Shabab poses during a visit to Somalia in February.
"Al-Shabab remains Al Qaeda's largest, wealthiest and most deadly affiliate, responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocents, including Americans," he said.
"Disrupting Al-Shabab's malign intent requires leadership from Somalis and continued support from Djibouti, Kenya, the U.S. and other members of the international community."