According to the Pentagon, the Expeditionary Sea Base USS Hershel "Woody" Williams is “conducting maritime operations off the coast of Somalia” to “reposition U.S. DOD personnel from Somalia to other locations in East Africa,” AFRICOM spokesperson Kelly Cahalan told VOA in an email. The operation is dubbed Operation Octave Quartz.
The nearly 800-foot-long ship, which is based at Souda Bay, Crete, can support a variety of maritime-based missions, including supporting special operations forces and humanitarian support, according to the Navy.
Trump’s order is part of an effort to draw down U.S. forces globally, including in Afghanistan and Iraq, before he leaves office January 20.
About 700 U.S. troops had been in Somalia, helping local forces in the fight against the al-Shabab insurgency. The mission has gone largely unnoticed in the U.S., but it has been a key component of the Pentagon’s campaign to combat al-Qaida worldwide.
The Pentagon said the relocated troops would continue their mission fighting violent extremist organizations in the region. It would not comment on specifics, including how many troops have been moved or when the relocation will be complete.
“The U.S. remains committed to our work in East Africa and Somalia, to include maintaining regional security, training, as well as continuing to pressure al-Qaida's franchise al-Shabab,” Cahalan wrote. “U.S. Africa Command is committed to advancing mutual interests with our East African partners.”
The U.S. withdrew some troops earlier this year from the Somali cities of Bossaso and Galkayo. As of last month, American troops remained in the capital, Mogadishu, in the port city of Kismayo and at the Baledogle airbase, 96 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu.
The Pentagon said in an unsigned statement December 4 that an unspecified number of U.S. troops would be moved to neighboring countries, while others would be reassigned outside East Africa.
Elections are set in Somalia
Trump’s order to withdraw from Somalia comes as the country prepares for parliamentary and presidential elections, and weeks before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Somalia has been torn by a nearly 20-year civil war, but an African Union-supported peacekeeping force and U.S. troops have regained control of Mogadishu and large parts of the country over the past decade.