The U.S. has amassed naval forces with about 2,500 Marines aboard off the coast of Somalia to cover the withdrawal of the estimated 800 U.S. troops from the Horn of Africa country, which has been hit by terror attacks from the al-Shabaab insurgent group, U.S. Africa Command said Tuesday.
The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), carrying members of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, arrived Monday off Somalia to back up Operation Octave Quartz in assuring the safe exit of the "majority" of U.S. troops from the East Africa country, AFRICOM said in a news release. A small number of troops is expected to stay behind to protect the U.S. diplomatic presence in the country.
Citing defense officials, U.S. Naval Institute News also reported that the aircraft carrier Nimitz and its strike group, consisting of the guided missile cruisers Princeton and Philippine Sea and Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Sterett, are also in the general area to guard the withdrawal operation.
The ARG, made up of the amphibious assault ship Makin Island and amphibious transport dock ships San Diego and Somerset, was joined by the Expeditionary Sea Base logistics ship Hershel "Woody" Williams in the effort "to protect our forces through this transition," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, commander of Joint Task Force-Quartz, which is overseeing the operation.
''This is a great example of how the United States can rapidly aggregate combat power to respond to emerging issues," Anderson, who is dual-hatted as the commander of Special Operations Command-Africa, said in the AFRICOM release.
The withdrawing troops are being repositioned in neighboring countries to be available for possible counter-terror missions against the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab, according to Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the AFRICOM commander.
In a statement Saturday, Townsend said, "To be clear, the U.S. is not withdrawing or disengaging from East Africa. We remain committed to helping our African partners build a more secure future."
The Pentagon announced Dec. 4 that President Donald Trump had ordered the Somalia troop withdrawal. Trump earlier had ordered the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to be reduced from 4,500 to 2,500, and in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500, by Jan. 15.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.