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Recently it was announced that the Biden Pentagon plans to send some 500 US troops back into Somalia in response to months of escalating attacks by the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Shabaab terrorist organization.

It is never a good idea to allow Al Qaeda a safe base of operations, since jihad never seems to stay in one place for very long. But it appears that the nature of this latest deployment will not in fact rain death and destruction down on jihadists but will most likely involve US troops statically protecting a bunch of civilians heading into Somalia to do…well, that part is anyone’s guess.

While the deployment is being billed as sending military advisers to train Somali forces to fight Al Shabaab, a deeper read into the Pentagon’s statement reveals a far different mission:

American troops will also provide security to personnel from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development as they work with the government to emerge from years of turmoil…

And therein lies the potential fiasco.

This appears to be just the kind of “nation building” lash-up that the American people have grown sick and tired of.

It was the US State Department that was the lead agency in the disastrous US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The recent track record of subordinating US forces to State Department projects has been terrible to say the least.

Moreover, the “optics” of sending US troops back into Somalia after abandoning Afghanistan and $86 billion of weaponry and military equipment to the jihadist Taliban are simply horrible. But there are much more than “optics” in play here.

Just who are all these State Department and USAID personnel and what will they be doing in Somalia, a perennially failed state? We have Afghanistan as the prime example of how such nation building operations go drastically and tragically wrong, though most Americans are unaware of the inflection point years ago that sent the Afghan mission into a deadly tailspin.

The nation-building program in Afghanistan was a unique creation of the Obama-Biden administration imposed on the US military, which wanted to surge 80,000 combat troops into Afghanistan to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda. In this case, the politicians ushered in our defeat before the military even had a chance to win militarily. In 2009 American military leaders proposed a strategy for breaking the Taliban insurgency and eliminating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, only to see that strategy rejected by President Obama, chiefly under advice from then Vice President Joe Biden.

Obama fidgeted, contemplated, and pondered, finally making a decision to send 33,000 troops instead of the 80,000 troops the US military asked for. To add insult to injury, Obama threw in a publicly disclosed date of withdrawal, which signaled to the Taliban to just hang on until the additional troops left.

It was from this point forward that the Obama administration saw to it that flag rank officers who fell in with Obama’s views were promoted to positions of authority. It was these “politicians in uniform” who lied to the troops and to the entire country, knowing full well that there was no plan to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, ever since Obama rejected the proposed Afghan surge.

But even worse, Obama imposed a so-called “civilian surge” at the same time. That dismally failed operation is eerily similar to what is starting in Somalia now.

As the Center reported back in September:

Princeton University published a report on Obama’s civilian surge which reads like a manual on how to avoid nation-building in the future. Here is a summary statement from Lessons from the US Civilian Surge in Afghanistan:

This whole-of-government “civilian surge” was described as an essential component of the counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy and was a White House priority.

Implementing the civilian surge was difficult. The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the two main agencies responsible for providing and managing the extra civilians, had to rapidly recruit, clear, train, and deploy hundreds of people to Afghanistan. The Foreign Service– already strained worldwide – was unable to meet the demand, so the agencies relied on congressionally approved temporary hiring authorities. The quality and qualifications of temporary hires varied. One-year tour lengths, frequent leave, and a high turnover rate in the summer fighting season reduced continuity at Embassy Kabul and the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the field. Additionally, the conflict zone experience and qualifications of these civilians varied widely.

After conducting more than 50 interviews with senior officials and experts who implemented or participated in the U.S. civilian surge to Afghanistan and reviewing the relevant primary and secondary documentation, we recommend the U.S. government avoid surging large numbers of civilians to conflict zones for economic development and capacity building in the future.

Despite the failed experience in Afghanistan, the State Department and USAID are now putting the band back together in Somalia.

What could go wrong?

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Christopher Holton
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