This week President Donald Trump signed an executive order extending a presidential declaration of a national emergency concerning Somalia for another year, calling the Islamist insurgency plaguing that country an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the US.
But even if that is the last extension of the declaration, US defense officials say the mission in the country is likely to take years to complete.
The fight there hinges on US Special Operations Forces being able to train an elite Somali army unit capable of defeating al Qaeda-linked militants on the ground. The commitment to the East African nation comes after the President has signaled a desire to reduce US troop levels across the globe and as the administration is in the process of withdrawing forces from Syria.
While officials say the effort is making progress, they tell CNN that the US training mission is likely to not be completed until 2026.
For nearly two years, a small team of US Special Operations forces has been embedded with the Somali National Army, assisting in the fight against the militant group Al-Shabaab. As well as advising on airstrikes and ground assaults, the Navy SEAL-led team’s primary task is to train and build Somalia its own elite light infantry force.
Named Danab, which in Somali means lightning, the force currently numbers only about 500 soldiers, too few to carry out operations in a country with a coastline almost as long as the east coast of the US. The plan, US defense officials say, is to eventually build Danab into a force of 3,000 soldiers capable of clearing militants from villages and towns across Somalia.