Defense & National Security — US troops to return to Somalia

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President Biden will redeploy up to 500 U.S. troops in East Africa to Somalia as the administration looks to reestablish a small presence in the country to counter al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab.

We’ll break down why this is significant and what it will entail, plus more on the Navy secretary’s upcoming visit the USS George Washington amid a string of sailor suicides and how the military is dealing with the nationwide baby formula shortage.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Subscribe here.

Biden to redeploy up to 500 troops to Somalia

In a reversal of former President Trump’s December 2020 order to withdraw U.S. forces from Somalia, American troops will be repositioned from neighboring countries to help establish a “small, persistent U.S. military presence in Somalia,” a senior administration official told reporters on Monday.

Some background: The U.S. had 750 troops stationed in Somalia in 2020 when Trump made his decision, a move he framed as his effort to end “forever wars.” Those troops had been repositioned to neighboring countries and would move in and out to try to help with counterterrorism operations.

But the move allowed Al-Shabaab — al Qaeda’s largest and best-financed global affiliate — to grow stronger and increase the tempo of its attacks in the region, including on U.S. personnel, the senior administration official told reporters.

Other issues: Having U.S. forces rotate through Somalia created a “very real force protection risk,” the official said. It also created efficiency challenges by transporting and unpacking equipment back and forth when operators could have been working.

“This is a step that rationalizes what was essentially an irrational arrangement that we inherited,” the official said. 

More on the move: The move won’t reestablish the full U.S. military presence prior to the withdrawal and won’t “significantly change” the Pentagon’s overall posture and resource dedication in East Africa, the official said.

The official acknowledged that the U.S. military presence is only part of the administration’s approach to Somalia, which also includes diplomacy, security assistance and stabilization programming to counter al-Shabaab.

The Pentagon’s response: Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that the American forces won’t directly fight in combat operations, and will instead train, advise and equip Somali forces.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s view “was that the episodic engagement model was inefficient and increasingly unsustainable,” Kirby said.

Read the full story here.

Navy chief visiting ship linked to string of suicides

Navy Secretary Carlos del Toro will visit the USS George Washington on Tuesday, making him the most senior official to visit the ship amid a string of suicides among sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier.

Capt. J.D. Dorsey, a Navy spokesperson, told The Hill that del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday will visit the ship to “hear firsthand” from the ship’s crew and leadership.

They will also “determine how things are going, and determine if there are other actions that need to be taken” to make conditions on the ship better for the crew.

A crisis: The George Washington has been docked in Newport News since 2017 for a midlife refueling and complex overhaul. The service has been under pressure to address conditions aboard the aircraft carrier, specifically after three sailors died by suicide within a week in April.

Crew members assigned to the ship have spoken out about the harsh conditions onboard. An 18-year-old sailor assigned to the ship attempted suicide last week, his mother told The Hill.

Navy efforts: The Navy says it has moved about 200 crew members off the ship and it has provided mental health resources to sailors. Two investigations are also underway into the suicides among the George Washington crew.

Speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, del Toro said the Navy needs to do a better job in providing a higher quality of life for sailors working on the ship.

“We need to develop a plan that’s more robust than what we’re currently doing for especially aircraft carriers because you’re introducing upwards of 2,500 sailors into an already challenging environment,” he said.

Read more here.

Pentagon: Bases ‘not immune’ to formula shortage

The nationwide baby formula shortage is taking its toll at U.S. military bases across the globe, the Pentagon’s top spokesperson said Monday.

“We’re not immune to the same supply chain problems that other families across America are experiencing,” press secretary John Kirby told reporters.

Current stock levels: He said that current stock levels of available baby formula in the continental United States is at 50 percent at base commissaries — neighborhood grocery stores located on military installations — while overseas it stands at 70 percent.

Kirby added that the Defense Commissary Agency (DECA) is monitoring the current market situation and “doing everything they can to keep things on the shelf as best they can,” including “working daily with distributors.”

A shortage: Supply chain and workforce issues, along with a recent safety recall and closure of a major plant, have caused a nationwide shortage of baby formula, with parents and guardians scrambling to find food for their infants.

The House will take up a pair of bills this week to address the shortage, but the Biden administration has come under pressure from parents and lawmakers who are demanding more action.

Read the full story here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • Elizabeth Allen, the State Department’s top official for public diplomacy and public affairs, will travel to Paris, while State Department counselor Derek Chollet will lead an interagency delegation to Chisinau, Moldova

  • The Atlantic Council will host “NEXUS 22: A Symposium at the Intersection of Defense, National Security and Autonomy,” at 8:45 a.m.

  • The U.S. Institute of Peace will host a discussion on “China, India and Pakistan: Standing at the Brink of Crisis,” at 11 a.m.

  • The Potomac Officers Club will host its “Second Annual Industrial Space Defense Summit,” at 12 p.m.

HOUSE

  • NASA Administrator Bill Nelson will testify before an Appropriations subpanel on “Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration,” at 9 a.m.

  • The Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,” at 9 a.m.

  • Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville will appear before an Appropriations subcommittee on “Fiscal Year 2023 United States Army budget,” at 9:30 a.m.

  • An Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Fiscal Year 2023 Army Modernization Programs,” at 2 p.m.

  • Another Armed Services subpanel will hold a hearing on “Fiscal Year 2023 Budget for Nuclear Forces and Atomic Energy Defense Activities,” at 4:30 p.m.

SENATE

  • The Appropriations defense subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Fiscal Year 2023 Funding Request and Budget Justification for the Air Force and Space Force,” at 10 a.m.

  • The Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on “Modernization Efforts of the Department of the Air Force in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2023 and the Future Years Defense Program,” at 2:30 p.m.

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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