Kenya and Somalia have united in calling for the US to reconsider pulling a plug on supporting regional efforts against terror group Al-Shabaab.
In a statement on Thursday, Kenya said partners against the Somali militant group affiliated with Al-Qaeda must reconsider any steps that could re-strengthen it and make any economic cooperation unviable in the region.
“A sustainable, prosperous and stable Horn of Africa, open to major trade and investment, can only be realised when these Al-Qaeda affiliates no longer pose a military threat and after the ideological and social apparatus they command has been dismantled,” a statement from the Kenyan Foreign Affairs ministry said
“This would entail a durable and predictable partnership between the United States and Kenya that would ensure that, together, they take actions to cripple the leadership of these terrorist organisations and sanction and prosecute their finances and source of funding.”
Nairobi’s statement arose after Bloomberg published a story indicating the Trump Administration is preparing to pull US troops out of Somalia, in what could be the US President’s bid to fulfill his 2016 campaign pledge of returning US troops home from foreign wars.
The Bloomberg story quoted comments from unidentified senior US government officials but Presiden Donald Trump himself had responded to a call from the US Veterans lobby, saying pulling troops from places like Somalia would happen as soon as possible.
“The process has long begun. Happening fast,” he tweeted, referring to removing US soldiers from countries like Somalia.
In Somalia, the US, which sent about 800 troops to help train local forces, has been associated with generating the elite forces of the Somali National Army known as Danab Brigade.
With direct funding and training from the Pentagon, the Danab, a local word for ‘Lightning’, has been able to amass as many as 800 specially trained soldiers capable of swift response to Al-Shabaab threats.
Somalia thinks pulling a plug now could weaken its response to Al-Shabaab.
“The United States military support to Somalia has enabled us to effectively combat Al-Shabaab and secure the Horn of Africa,” Somalia’s President Mohamed Farmaajo wrote on his Twitter page on Thursday.
“A victory through this journey and for Somali-US partnership can only be achieved through continuous security partnership and capacity building support.”
Kenya, which has sent troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), is usually a perennial ally of the US in the war on terror.
With cooperation through financial assistance, intelligence sharing, training, equipping and border control, the US’ assistance to Kenya has also helped reduce terror incidents in areas beyond the Kenya-Somalia border.
Officials in Nairobi say that kind of cooperation should continue if both sides are to benefit from the economic arrangements they are discussing.
Nairobi and Washington have been discussing a trade agreement seen as an eventual replacement to the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA).
The Foreign Affairs ministry said Kenya will continue to seek trade cooperation in ways that have “a deep impact on peace and development in Kenya and, indeed, the East Africa region.”
“Nothing sends a powerful signal for growing and better trade relations than a partnership built around a stable and progressive political environment devoid of any threats, particularly those of terrorist elements such as Al-Qaeda and its affiliates including Al-Shabaab.”
Somalia is due to hold elections from December to February but Amisom forces are also scheduled to leave Somalia next year, according to the initial exit plan.
Amisom’s mandate as given by the United Nations Security Council is also expected to expire by March next year, unless the UN body extends it again.
If Amisom does pull out eventually, it will be upon the Somali National Army to steady its fight against Al-Shabaab.
The US Africa Command earlier indicated it will continue to target Al-Shabaab hideouts in conjunction with partners in the Horn of Africa region.
Whether that changes now could have a huge impact on defeating the terror group.