Biden signs order to deploy troops to Somalia day after country elects new president

Decision made amid growing concerns about power held by Islamist group al-Shabaab

The US has signed an order to deploy troops to Somalia, the day after Somalia elected a new president.

On Monday, US president Joe Biden effectively reversed former president Donald Trump's late-term order for the removal of nearly all of the 700 special operations forces operating there.

The decision was made amid growing concerns about the power held by Islamic insurgent group al-Shabaab, which controls large swathes of Somalia and is aligned with al-Qaeda. US defence secretary Lloyd Austin requested the deployment "to re-establish a persistent US military presence in Somalia to enable a more effective fight against al-Shabaab, which has increased in strength and poses a heightened threat", according to the Associated Press.

The decision was announced after the election results, which saw Hassan Sheikh Mohamud winning a four-year-term on Sunday after elections went to a third round, bringing some conclusion to a long-lasting political crisis.

The Horn of Africa country has a population of 16.3 million, but only Somalia's 328 parliamentarians were allowed to vote. The eventual result showed 214 for Mr Mohamud, with the incumbent, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – also known as Farmaajo – getting 110.

Elections delayed

Mr Mohamud pledged to "build a Somalia that is in harmony with itself and is in harmony with the world". The 66-year-old previously served as Somalia's president between 2012 and 2017, before he was ousted by Mr Mohamed. Last year, Mr Mohamed was met with clashes after he tried to extend his own leadership by two years. The elections were delayed for more than a year due to disputes about the process and other in-fighting and insecurity.

Sunday's voting took place in a fortified aircraft hangar in capital city Mogadishu, amid a lockdown. Journalists described hearing explosions as the election progressed, amid concern that al-Shabaab would attempt to derail proceedings.

A record 39 candidates ran for election, including former ministers and just one woman, former foreign minister Fowzia Yusuf Adam.

"Concluding the electoral cycle will put an end to a drawn-out process that has proved highly divisive," said Omar Mahmood, a senior analyst on Somalia at the International Crisis Group. "That alone should allow for the government to refocus on pressing priorities, such as the ongoing drought and the need for reconciliation. Yet the conclusion of the elections alone will not be sufficient in itself – moments of extreme hope have followed the conclusion of past cycles in Somalia, only for disappointment to set in again later."

A devastating drought has left six million Somalis facing crisis levels of food insecurity and there are reports of famine in six areas. The country has gone through three consecutive failed rainy seasons, raising concerns about the possibility of a famine similar to that of 2011, which killed 250,000 people. Somalia is said to be one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world.