President Donald Trump has ordered the removal of most US military and security personnel from Somalia, where they have been conducting operations against the Al Shabaab militant group, the Pentagon said Friday.
After ordering major troop reductions in Iraq and Afghanistan recently, Trump's new move reflects his drive to disengage US forces from what he calls "endless wars" abroad, making good on a campaign pledge in the final weeks of his presidency.
Trump "has ordered the Department of Defense and the United States Africa Command to reposition the majority of personnel and assets out of Somalia by early 2021," the Pentagon said in a statement.
The Defense Department stressed the US was "not withdrawing or disengaging from Africa," amid concerns of a pullback from various areas in the continent.
"We will continue to degrade violent extremist organisations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring we maintain our strategic advantage in great power competition," it said.
The US Africa Command has maintained some 700 troops, personnel from other US security operations, and private security contractors in Somalia, both conducting attacks on Al Shabaab and training Somali forces.
US troops have conducted operations against extremist groups in Somalia since the early 2000s, killing hundreds in mostly conventional aircraft and drone strikes that have caused significant civilian deaths.
US personnel meanwhile have sustained some casualties, including the death of a CIA officer in late November.
On Wednesday Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley confirmed that the Defense Department was reviewing the size of its posture in the country, describing it as a relatively small and low-cost but high-risk operation. Yet, if US forces do not keep up pressure on Al Shabaab, he said, they could threaten to attack US interests outside the Horn of Africa.
The move came as Trump has sought to wind down US military engagements abroad to honor a pledge he made in the 2016 election.
He ordered US troop levels to be slashed by mid-January in Afghanistan and Iraq, to 2,500 troops in both cases.
The Pentagon said Friday that some of the personnel being pulled out of Somalia will be reassigned to neighboring countries, particularly Kenya and Djibouti, to allow cross-border operations against extremist groups in conjunction with partner forces.
"The US will retain the capability to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations in Somalia, and collect early warnings and indicators regarding threats to the homeland," it said.