President Joe Biden has approved the deployment of hundreds of service members to Somalia to fight against al Shabab, an African-based al Qaeda affiliate.

Biden signed off on the order from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday. It reverses a decision made by former President Donald Trump, who ordered the withdrawal of nearly all 700 troops stationed there in January 2021.


Since the troops withdrew, al Shabab has "unfortunately only grown stronger” and “has increased the tempo of its attacks — including against U.S. personnel,” an administration official told reporters. The United States had been moving in and out of Somalia “episodically” to help with counterterrorism efforts since leaving, the official said.

The new plan will include the deployment of fewer than 500 soldiers, the official explained.

"Our forces are not now nor will they be directly engaged in combat operations," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday. "The purpose here is to enable a more effective fight against al Shabaab, by local forces, and Al Shabaab has increased in their strength and poses a heightened threat. So again, this is a repositioning of forces that are already in theater, who have traveled in and out of Somalia now in an episodic basis since January of 2021."

Kirby described the new presence as a "persistent" one as opposed to a permanent or temporary situation.

"Al Shabaab continues to conduct attacks, certainly there in Somalia, and they have been capable of conducting attacks in the region. And we know that in the past, they had expressed at least the intent and desire to attack outside the region, including against American interests. So, we're watching this closely," he added. "This is not a threat that's going away."

Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of AFRICOM, testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee in mid-March and warned lawmakers that al Shabab “has only grown stronger and bolder over the past year.”


“Deadly terrorism has metastasized to Africa. Al Qaeda's Al Shabab in East Africa and ISIS and Al Qaeda groups in West Africa and elsewhere are among the world's fastest-growing, wealthiest, and deadliest terrorist groups and remain grave and growing threats that aspire to kill Americans, both there and in our homeland," he told the senators.