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Gaetz effort to withdraw US troops from Somalia fails

Effort by House Republican to shift longstanding counterterrorism policy was thwarted despite assistance from progressives like Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Analysis | Africa

An effort to end military operations and to bring any US special forces home from Somalia has failed in a 102-321 today on the House floor.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) introduced the concurrent resolution pursuant to the War Powers Resolution that would require the president to withdraw all troops (with the exception of those securing the U.S. embassy) within a year of passage. He argued that U.S. troops in that country — there on and off for the last 30 years — are no longer necessary.

His bill received bipartisan support — 52 Republicans, 50 Democrats — but it was ultimately not enough.

“The United States has had a military presence in Somalia since 1992, but it's been a costly and mostly fruitless endeavor. Somalia is entrenched in violence and political instability that has persisted for decades, and there seems to be no end in sight," he said in a statement issued after the vote.

"America has a responsibility to protect its citizens and defend its interests, but Somalia is not a vital national security concern. Instead of pouring more resources into a never-ending conflict, our country should prioritize its own needs and focus on issues that directly impact our neighbors," according to the statement. "It is time to bring our troops home and let Somalia find its own path to stability.”

Biden authorized a return of some 500 U.S. forces to Somalia last year after his predecessor, Donald Trump, ordered 700 of them out during his term. Biden insists they are needed to combat the radical Islamist al-Shabaab group. 

Gaetz’s bill drew votes from members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who is Somali-American, and the CPC's chairwoman, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, (D-Wash.) Omar spoke in favor of the measure on the floor. She said a “real debate” on U.S. policy in Somalia and Africa in general, is “long overdue.”

“It is important we support the question before us,” she said, noting that the 365-day period of withdrawal was “responsible.”

“I, and many Somali Americans support this resolution and I urge my colleagues to do the same,” she added.

Somalia has been besieged by militant violence, political corruption and instability for more than three decades. U.S. military and CIA involvement has been extensive, but experts say such outside assistance and involvement has not helped. In fact, many believe it has made things worse.

The vote coincides with the publication today of a report on U.S. counterterrorism programs in Somalia by the Costs of War project at Brown University's Watson Institute.

The report found that the United States has spent more than $2.5 billion on counterterrorism assistance in Somalia since 2007, an amount which the project called "just the tip of the iceberg" because that figure doesn't include spending on U.S. military and intelligence operations in Somalia that have yet to be disclosed by the relevant agencies. 

Remarkably, the study also found that Washington spends more on counterterrorism in Somalia each year "than the Federal Somali Government earns in tax revenue, flooding Somalia with funding for militarized counterterrorism and thereby diverting resources away from real conflict resolution solutions."

The results, however, have been disappointing, to say the least. "Sixteen years after Al-Shabaab's emergence," it concluded, "the group is still on the rise."

"U.S. efforts are not merely exacerbating Somalia's insecurity, but actively impeding stability and conflict resolution," it went on. "The U.S. portrays itself as an external actor with a supportive role in helping Somalia in conflict resolution efforts. But U.S. policy makes conflict inevitable."

This was not Gaetz’s first attempt to get U.S. troops out of an active conflict zone. The House voted last month on his resolution to withdraw the approximately 900 troops who remain in Syria. That vote failed by similar numbers, 103  to 321, with Democrats and Republicans also breaking in largely the same way as today's vote.

Reps. Ilhan Omar and Matt Gaetz (Twitter)
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