The presence of US troops in Somalia helps the Islamist insurgency Al Shabaab recruit, exacerbating the very violence they claim to be fighting. But the House has voted down a resolution to withdraw.
On April 27, the House voted 101-321 against Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz’s resolution to remove all US troops from Somalia, even as all signs point to escalation in the fight with Al-Shabaab. AFRICOM, the US Africa Command, and Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, are both asking for more US presence, more funds, more weapons, more drones, and fewer restrictions on how they’re used.
The resolution did not call for an end to the drone bombing, only for the withdrawal of US troops.
Gaetz had no expectation that it would pass, but he forced all 435 members of the House to go on record for or against another costly US “forever war.” Conceivably they’ll have to answer for their votes in 2024, perhaps to the US’s tiny antiwar community, but more likely to the “America First” political movement that Gaetz shares with Donald Trump.
The vote ensures that the US will maintain a military presence in Somalia until at least after the next election cycle. At least 900 US troops have been stationed in Somalia, playing an advisory role while the national army they train takes heavy casualties on the battlefield against the Islamist al-Shabaab forces.
Located in the strategically significant Horn of Africa, Somalia not only has the longest coastline in Africa, but perhaps the world’s largest untapped coastal oil reserves. In 2021, the Somali government signed a $7 million oil exploration deal with the Houston, Texas-based company, Coastline.
Though congressional hawks justify the US military presence in Somalia in terms of freedom” and counter-terrorism, the country’s geography and potentially massive oil wealth make it a key strategic prize for Washington.
Gaetz and the co-sponsors of the resolution to withdraw from Somalia were all Republicans. Fifty-two Republicans and 50 Democrats voted in favor of a pullout, while 165 Republicans and 156 Democrats voted no. (12 House members did not vote). The vote closely resembled the results on Gaetz’s failed resolution to withdraw from Syria, which brought together a left-right coalition in support while the bipartisan pro-war majority expressed vehement opposition.
In his press release, Gaetz wrote, “When the House debated my resolution to withdraw troops from Syria, both Republicans and Democrats argued the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Afghanistan serves as a global permission slip for every neocon fantasy. They will argue the same for Somalia.” As they did, although some said it should be revisited and rewritten with a narrower scope.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is all in Most reports are likening Gaetz’s resolution to withdraw from Somalia to the effort he previously led to force a US military pullout from Syria. But there is a key distinction between the two situations.
In Syria, US troops are violating international law because they are not welcome by the government in Damascus. They are an occupying force violating Syrian sovereignty.
In Somalia, however, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is all in with US drones in the air and troops on the ground, tweeting his thanks to Joe Biden. His only complaint has been that he’s not getting enough air support.