The US is sending soldiers to fight the growing threat of a terrorist group affiliated to al-Qaeda.
President Joe Biden is deploying around 500 troops to Somalia in east Africa to fight the growing threat of al-Shabaab, in a move which reverses the Trump administration’s withdrawal in 2020.
There are concerns that the Somalia-based terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda are a threat to Americans and their allies at home and abroad, as well as US allies.
A White House official said the group is "al-Qaeda’s largest, wealthiest and deadliest affiliate".
A senior administration official said the troops will not engage in combat but will help train Somali forces and offer intelligence support, with the ultimate goal being “to try to dislodge Shabaab from what is a significant amount of territory that it at least purports to govern and hold”.
This move is a significant change in American foreign policy and is one of the largest increases in a US counterterrorism mission under Biden.
The White House insisted that the move did not contradict his decision last year to pull American forces out of Afghanistan and his policy to extricate from "forever wars."
Biden also approved a Pentagon request to target around a dozen suspected leaders of al-Shabaab, including people thought to be plotting attacks outside Somalia’s borders, The New York Times has said.
A senior US administration official said: “Against the advice of senior US military leadership, the previous administration had directed the withdrawal of approximately 750 US military personnel from Somalia.
"It was an abrupt transition to a rotational presence. Since then, al-Shabaab has unfortunately only grown stronger. It has increased the tempo of its attacks, including against US personnel.”
They said the group has killed more than a dozen Americans in east Africa, including three in an assault on the American airbase at Manda Bay, Kenya, in 2020.
The group is seeking to topple Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's government and establish its own rule in the country.
They have recently succeeded to make territorial in recent months and reversed the gains of African Union peacekeepers who previously pushed the militants into remote pockets of the country.
A the end of April, six people were killed in a blast at a seaside restaurant in Somalia's capital Mogadishu.
The White House official said by targeting a small leadership corps they hope to curtail “the threat to a level that is tolerable.”
Sarah Harrison, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, has criticised the move.
She told the New York Times that the US has been trying to quell al-Shabaab using military force for 15 years and it is yet to be successful.
“Sending in more US troops and honing in on a small number of senior al-Shabaab leadership is narrow in its aims and by definition cannot end the broader military fight absent more concerted and effective diplomatic and political efforts by the United States and others,” she said.
In its final year in office, the Obama administration decided al-Shabaab was a part of the armed conflict the United States authorised against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.
Biden is now the third successive President to attempt a counterterrorism strategy in Somalia.
When asked what US troops would need to achieve for them to withdraw, a senior White House official said: “Counterterrorism does not make for quick fixes.
"But what we think this offers is a chance to at least continue to manage and degrade that threat in close coordination with our Somali partners, rather than permitting it to escalate further and pose an increased risk to Americans in particular.”