The Pentagon said Friday that U.S. President Donald Trump had ordered the majority of American military forces out of Somalia by early 2021.
The decision was the latest among a series of troop withdrawal orders by the current U.S. administration. The Pentagon last month announced U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq would be reduced to 2,500 in each country by mid-January 2021.
Such orders, which have been announced with growing haste in recent months, not only seek to fulfill Trump’s promises during his time in office but are an important component of the so-called “America First” policy, analysts say.
Still, accelerated U.S. troop withdrawals, which suggest that Trump is determined to downgrade U.S. participation in distant wars while cementing his political legacy before his presidency ends, will on the one hand face resistance from home and abroad, and on the other leave an even more daunting challenge for the next administration, according to experts.
Analysts believe there are mainly three reasons behind Trump’s troop withdrawal push.
First of all, Trump has promised time and again to “extract the United States from costly foreign conflicts, bring U.S. troops home, and shrug off burdensome overseas commitments,” according to a Foreign Affairs article published Tuesday.
Back in December 2018, the Trump administration announced that it has started returning U.S. troops home from Syria after claiming a victory in the fight against the Islamic State militant group.
In June this year, Trump said to reporters at the White House that the number of U.S. troops deployed in Germany would be reduced to 25,000 due to Germany’s insufficient defense spending. Five months later, he ordered U.S. troop pullouts from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Calling Trump’s troop withdrawal orders “a central component of his ‘America First’ agenda,” the New York Times said in an article published Friday that “that appeal has particularly animated his base of populist voters, many of them veterans who have grown weary of their roles in longstanding wars.”
Second, most of the pullouts were made to put an end to what Trump referred to as “endless wars” the country has been entangled in, cut U.S. spending for foreign aid, and reduce casualties for U.S. soldiers.
For example, the Somalia pullout could be a decision made partly due to growing risk for U.S. soldiers in the African country as its security has been, as the Brookings Institution pointed out in a November article, “slowly but steadily deteriorating.”
Third, as Trump faces the end of his presidency, the orders could be “political,” and “have more to do with President Donald Trump’s legacy than concern for Americans,” said news magazine The Week in a feature story published late November.
RESISTANCE HOME, ABROAD
Over time, U.S. troop pullouts ordered by the Trump administration have been met with resistance at home and abroad. Those orders concerning the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan, in particular, have been strongly opposed by not only the federal government, but also the GOP and senior U.S. military officials.
In fact, following the administration’s announcement of the Syria pullout in 2018, Trump himself and administration officials said in 2019 that there was no timetable for the withdrawal. According to an article published in mid-November by the New York Times, “several hundred U.S. troops remain stationed in Syria.”
Besides, among the U.S. troops that would be withdrawn from Germany, nearly half will be repositioned to other NATO countries like Belgium and Italy, while the rest will return to the United States with some beginning rotational deployment back to Europe, then Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in late July.
Furthermore, on the Afghanistan and Iraq pullouts, the Trump administration failed to win support not only from its NATO allies, but also senior U.S. military officials such as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, and Republican members like Esper.
During an interview with U.S. media organization NPR this October, Milley said he was “not going to engage in speculation” on an Afghanistan pullout timeline National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien had announced earlier.
According to a CNN report in mid-November, Esper had sent a classified memo to the White House, warning that “the necessary conditions had not been met for the Afghanistan pullout.”
“Trump orders most American troops to leave Somalia. Impulsive, ill thought out orders will result in a bitter harvest for U.S. national security interests,” Barry McCaffrey, a retired U.S. army general, tweeted Saturday.
A CNN article published on Nov. 17 noted that Trump’s order on the Afghanistan and Iraq pullouts “is the latest foreign policy move on a growing list in his final weeks in office that are meant to limit President-elect Joe Biden’s options before he takes office in January.”
Citing Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, the article said Trump “is trying to put the Democrats in a tricky situation.”
However, multiple media reports have showed that Trump’s orders were often “slow-rolled” by Pentagon.