As the war in Afghanistan came to a stark end Monday, the Biden administration now faces questions over the level of risk the US and other Western countries face with the Taliban taking control of the country.
During a briefing Monday, press secretary Jen Psaki inaccurately claimed the US has no military presence in Somalia and Yemen when asked whether Western interests are at risk because the Taliban have access to weapons obtained from the defeated Afghan military.
In her response, Psaki noted the economic leverage the US has over Afghanistan as well as the US military’s continued ability to strike targets in the country – as it did on Friday, through an unmanned airstrike against ISIS-K in Afghanistan.
“There are other parts of the world — Somalia, Libya, Yemen — where we don’t have a presence on the ground,” Psaki continued, “and we still prevent terrorist attacks or threats to US citizens living in the United States or around the world from growing.”
Facts First: When it comes to Yemen and Somalia, this claim is not quite accurate. The White House said in June that the US does have military personnel in Yemen and, according to the Defense Department, as of June the US had a small presence in Somalia.
In a June 8 letter updating Congress on “deployments of United States Armed Forces,” President Joe Biden wrote, “A small number of United States military personnel are deployed to Yemen to conduct operations against al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS.”
According to the Defense Department, as of June 30 there were 52 active members of the US military deployed in Somalia – 47 of whom were Marines. This number is a significant decrease from the roughly 700 troops serving in the country prior to former President Donald Trump’s order in December that the majority of troops be removed from the country “by early 2021.”
In his letter to Congress, Biden wrote that while “the majority of United States forces in Somalia redeployed or repositioned to neighboring countries prior to my inauguration as President,” the “United States Armed Forces based outside Somalia continue to counter the terrorist threat posed by ISIS and al-Shabaab, an associated force of al-Qa’ida, in Somalia.”
US military leaders in the region told the Military Times in April that senior leadership was still “commuting” to Somalia from Europe and East African countries for inspections and meetings. According to the Military Times, the US was also “sending special operations forces to train, advise and assist local troops” in the country.
On June 15, The New York Times reported the Pentagon was considering a proposal to send dozens of US “Special Forces trainers” into Somalia “to help local forces combat Al Shabab, the terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda.”