The aircraft carrier Nimitz and its carrier strike group are providing operational and close-air support off the coast of Somalia as part of Joint Task Force-Quartz and Operation Octave Quartz as U.S. troops are relocated from Somalia to other areas of Africa.
Embarked on the Nimitz is Carrier Air Wing 17, which AFRICOM said hosts more than 80 combat aircraft. Likewise, guided-missile cruisers Princeton and Philippine Sea, along with guided missile destroyer Sterett, also are supporting the Nimitz.
“The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group brings incredible capability and allows us to maintain pressure against regional threats throughout Operation Octave Quartz,” U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, Joint Task Force-Quarts commander, said in a news release.
The command stood up Joint Task Force-Quartz in December to oversee Operation Octave Quartz, which is spearheading the relocation of hundreds of U.S. troops in Somalia.
USNI News was the first to report this month that the Nimitz and its carrier strike group was operating off the coast of Somalia, along with the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group.
But this is the first time AFRICOM has acknowledged the Nimitz’s presence in the region. The command said the aircraft carrier has been operating there since Dec. 21.
AFRICOM’s announcement comes as the Navy and Marine Corps has beefed up its maritime presence off the coast of Somalia in recent weeks in support of Joint Task Force-Quartz. AFRICOM said on Dec. 22 that the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit were operating off the Somali coast to conduct maritime security operations with the expeditionary sea base Hershel “Woody” Williams.
Although the Pentagon announced it is planning to remove a “majority” of the 700 U.S. troops in Somalia from the country and relocate them by early 2021, AFRICOM has said it is still devoted to its mission in east Africa.
“To be clear, the U.S. is not withdrawing or disengaging from east Africa,” Townsend said in a statement. “We remain committed to helping our African partners build a more secure future. We also remain capable of striking al-Shabab at the time and place of our choosing — they should not test us.”
A small troop presence would remain in Somalia, according to Townsend and AFRICOM spokesman Air Force Col. Chris Karns.
U.S. troops in Somalia have carried out airstrikes targeting violent extremist organizations and have trained Somalia’s Danab Advance Infantry Brigade to combat those groups, such al-Qaida offshoot al-Shabab. Al-Shabab has between 5,000 to 7,000 militants in Somalia where it is based, according to AFRICOM.
The command has conducted more than 50 airstrikes in Somalia in 2020.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct carrier air wing embarked aboard the Nimitz.