U.S.-Trained Somali Counterterrorism Force Abandons Mission

(New York, N.Y.) — Recent reports have indicated that the Puntland Security Force (PSF), a U.S.-trained Somali counterterrorism force, has abandoned its mission and retreated to its headquarters in protest of a new commander imposed by the Puntland government. The PSF played an integral role in quashing extremist activity in Somalia’s Puntland state. But after the United States withdrew its forces from Somalia in January, the security force became intwined in political feuds as various agencies sought to exert control over the force. Extremist groups, including al-Shabaab and local affiliates pledged to ISIS, have sought to take advantage of the security vacuum left behind. The force, which had been supplied and trained by U.S. Navy SEALs and CIA operatives, had been considered a U.S. asset.

The PSF has resisted efforts to come under the control of Puntland State President Said Abdullahi Deni in the wake of a withdrawal of U.S. military personnel from Somalia earlier this year. It has also remained unaligned with the central government in Mogadishu. In November, however, Deni fired the commander of the PSF and appointed a political ally to the post, leading PSF fighters to retreat to their headquarters in protest.

Many years of violence and failed governments have created a power vacuum in Somalia, which has allowed Islamist militant groups to establish control and exert influence over the population. After the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) came into power on June 5, 2006, a group of young hardliners split from a Salafi extremist group called al-Itihad al-Islami (AIAI) to join the ICU as its militia. The ICU took control of central and southern Somalia, including Mogadishu, reportedly prompting many people to flee the capital. The ICU violently imposed a strict version of sharia, shutting down movie theaters, centers for viewing soccer matches, and co-ed events such as sports. The ICU militia later evolved into the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab. On Monday, al-Shabaab militants blew up the police station in the town of Eldheere before capturing the town.

On January 17, 2021, the United States completed the withdrawal of 700 military personnel who supported counterterrorism operations in the country. A December 2020 Pentagon statement said that the American forces, most of them Special Operations units conducting training and counterterrorism missions, would be reassigned to neighboring countries and some out of East Africa. The U.S. troop withdrawal was announced days after it was revealed that that a veteran officer of the CIA had been killed in an attack in Somalia.

To read Counter Extremism Project (CEP)’s resource Somalia, please click here.

To read CEP’s resource Al-Shabaab, please click here.

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