The real story is more complicated because Somalia is complicated. Trump first placed American troops in Somalia in 2017 at the behest of his national security officials. If the mission is to stay in Somalia until al Shabab is gone, there’s no end in sight. Al Shabab skims off of Western foreign aid, is likely supported by Sunni benefactors in the Middle East, and has a never-ending pool of disaffected young men to replenish its ranks. That’s why generals have only committed to “slow” progress in Somalia and have refused to call our operations there a “war.” A war has clear objectives. Fixing Somalia and the problems that fuel al Shabab is an open-ended mission.
In other words, if the U.S. stays in Somalia, we could very soon have well over 800 troops in the country. There is already evidence of mission creep. On paper, U.S. troops are only in Somalia to advise and assist Somali and African Union forces in operations against al Shabab. In reality, much of the fighting is increasingly being carried out by Americans. The American share of the fighting may increase — African Union peacekeeping forces are scheduled to withdraw from Somalia next year.
The other problem with a continued presence in Somalia is that the mission morphs into one bent on propping up the government, not just striking terrorists. Washington, like it or not, then owns the government’s problems, including corruption and brutality. Often, our presence gives corrupt governments a false security blanket. This can make it harder for the government to reform and for Somalia to fix itself.