The Strategic Mistake of US Disengagement from Somalia

In December 1992, as an infantry platoon commander, I was among the first Marines to land in Mogadishu at the onset of Operation Restore Hope. It was a mission that made sense to me and my fellow Marines at the time: to keep the warring factions in check and enable the delivery of relief supplies to the long-suffering population. Ten months later, after the death of nineteen US servicemen and hundreds of Somalis in the Battle of Mogadishu, that mission seemed much less clear. It dissolved altogether with the withdrawal of US forces in March 1994 and the subsequent collapse of the UN mission less than a year later. Somalia, as prevailing wisdom had it, was an irredeemable disaster, a place destined to wallow in its own misery, where the benefits of intervention were unlikely to be worth the price.

In 2019 and 2020, I returned to Mogadishu, this time as a civilian helping to train officers of the Danab Advanced Infantry Brigade. It was clear to me then why General Stephen Townsend, the commander of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), was able to cite Somalia as a place where the command was seeing real progress. But last December, despite this progress, US troops were withdrawn.

In June of this year, I visited Mogadishu again. Conditions were worse in every respect and the war against al-Shabaab was not going well. Two of the seventeen Somali army officers I had helped train the previous year were dead, and several others seriously wounded. Mogadishu had the feeling of a city under siege.

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