Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller on Friday made a surprise visit to Somalia, the first trip to the East African country by a U.S. Defense secretary.
The visit, announced by the Defense Department in a press release Friday, was the last in a four-country trip. Prior to Somalia, Miller made previously unannounced visits to U.S. military camps in neighboring Djibouti, as well as Bahrain and Qatar.
According to CNN, Miller was in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu for a few hours, meeting with some of the U.S. military personnel there following his visit to the U.S. Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.
The department said in its press release that during these visits, Miller “reaffirmed U.S. resolve in seeing the degradation of Violent Extremist Organizations that threaten U.S. interests, partners, and allies in the region, and the importance of the international community’s continuing efforts on this front.”
The trip comes amid reports that Trump plans to authorize the removal of the approximately 700 troops currently deployed in Somalia assisting in counterterrorism efforts against al Qaeda’s largest affiliate group, al-Shabab, as well as the local ISIS organization.
While there has yet to be an official announcement from the Defense Department on a military withdrawal from Somalia, Defense officials reportedly told CNN that major reductions are expected to happen within the coming days.
The visits also mark Miller’s first trip abroad since he took on the top Pentagon role after President Trump fired former Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier this month. The move prompted a series of resignations from other top Pentagon officials.
Since Miller has taken the helm, the agency announced that it would be complying with an order from Trump to cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 and the number of forces in Iraq from 3,000 to 2,500 by Jan. 15, days before Trump is set to leave office.
Experts, lawmakers and former officials have warned against the withdrawals. In Afghanistan, many say that a drawdown of troops will weaken the U.S. position in peace talks with the Taliban.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said earlier this month that only a “small minority” in Congress would support a rapid drawdown, which he said “would hurt our allies and delight, delight, the people who wish us harm.”
In a joint report released Wednesday from the inspectors general of the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, the officials wrote that Somali forces are not able to resist terrorist threats within the country without the support of U.S. forces.
“Despite many years of sustained Somali, US, and international counterterrorism pressure, the terrorist threat in East Africa is not degraded: Al-Shabaab retains freedom of movement in many parts of southern Somalia and has demonstrated an ability and intent to attack outside of the country, including targeting US interests,” according to the report.
“Somalia’s security forces are unable to contain the threat from Al-Shabaab and ISIS-Somalia, which poses a smaller but still potent threat, without significant international support,” it added.