US military “advisors” have been secretly operating in Somalia for years, officials disclosed.
Washington has been keeping ground troops in Somalia since 2007 and plans to deepen its security presence in the country to fight threats by militant groups, Reuters reported.
A US official said on condition of anonymity that there were currently up to 120 US military personnel on the ground throughout Somalia.
The disclosure is the first public acknowledgement of the US military presence in Somalia ever since George W. Bush’s administration and is yet another confirmation of a deepening US commitment to Somalia’s government, which the Obama administration recognized last year.
The Pentagon announced in January that it had sent a few advisors to Somalia in October, but never revealed that its troops had already been deployed in the country.
The October deployment was seen as the first US troop assignment to Somalia since 1993.
The plans to further expand US military assistance coincides with the increased efforts by the Somali government and African Union peacekeepers to counter a bloody seven-year armed battle with al-Shabab.
The US plans deeper engagement and new funds for assisting Somali National Army (SNA), while continuing to work with African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM. The mission has some 22,000 troops in the country deployed from Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Djibouti and Ethiopia.
“What you’ll see with this upcoming fiscal year is the beginning of engagement with the SNA proper,” a US defense official told Reuters. The next fiscal year starts in October.
Over the past months, Washington has significantly increased its drone operations in Somalia to fight al-Shabab fighters, also putting civilian lives at risk.
Somalia has been the scene of clashes between government forces and al-Shabab fighters since 1991.
Al-Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu by the African Union troops in 2011. However, the group still holds several smaller towns and areas in the center and south of the country.
The country did not have an effective central government until September 2012, when lawmakers elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the new president.