US ‘backing down’ in tackling terror threats in Afghanistan and Somalia, generals warn
For years, the United States has tried to weaken the terrorist organization al-Shabab, which Townsend called “al-Qaeda’s deadliest arm”. Those efforts were complicated last year, following the complete withdrawal of US troops from Somalia, a departure ordered by President Donald Trump towards the end of his term in the White House.
Townsend said counterterrorism efforts have seen reduced effectiveness in part because US troops have “come to work” from neighboring Djibouti, where the US military maintains a permanent base.
Monitoring al-Shabab “across the horizon”, as the Pentagon characterizes the dynamic, That means US forces are unable to apply “enough pressure,” Townsend said, adding, “We really can’t tackle al-Shabab’s problems.”
It’s a warning similar to those issued by the head of US Central Command, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, before the US withdrew from Afghanistan last year. He had said before last summer’s withdrawal that monitoring terrorist groups once there was no longer a US presence in the region would be “extremely difficult” – although “not impossible”.
During Tuesday’s Senate hearing, McKenzie confirmed that the United States had not launched any strikes in Afghanistan since the last plane left Kabul in late August, as he predicted that the Islamic State-Khorasan subsidiary of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was about to experience a resurgence.
McKenzie tells senators that ISIS has managed to execute high-profile attacks ‘even in Kabul’ in recent times month.
“We are coming out of winter; traditionally this would now start the fighting season,” he added. “I expect ISIS attacks to intensify in Afghanistan as summer approaches.”
McKenzie projected confidence that the Taliban, a sworn enemy of the Islamic State, would attempt to crush ISIS-K, although it freed around a thousand of its fighters when it freed prisoners from prisons that had been maintained by US forces. But McKenzie noted that things were “much less firm” on al-Qaeda, which has historically had a relationship of convenience with the country’s ruling Taliban.
For now, it appears that the United States is largely in a watch and wait mode. The US military relies heavily on Washington’s relationship with Pakistan to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions regarding Afghanistan. But there is no basic formal arrangement — and the Biden administration is unlikely at any time to bless the reintroduction of US troops into or above Afghanistan.
What transpires regarding US forces and Somalia, however, is an open question.
On Tuesday, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), asked Townsend point-blank if he had recommended to his chain of command that the Department of Defense reintroduces US forces to Somalia full-time. based.
Townsend acknowledged that he had indeed submitted a recommendation regarding Somalia to his superiors – but adamantly refused to characterize what was in it, noting that they were “still considering this advice, and I would like to give them the necessary space to make that decision.”