It’s a busy month for U.S. military forces, with dynamic situations in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Korea. But don’t sleep on the Horn of Africa, either.
Dozens of U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division have been deployed to Mogadishu to train Somali and African Union troops who are fighting al-Shabab jihadists there, according to a new report by VOA News.
Al-Shabab, an extremist group aligned with Al-Qaeda, has gained notoriety in recent years for its persecution of Christians, widespread abductions, and large-scale terrorist attacks in East Africa.
The U.S. troops were sent at the request of the Somali government and are tasked with a train-and-equip mission, which is expected to last until the end of September.
“United States Africa Command will conduct various security cooperation and/or security force assistance events in Somalia in order to assist our allies and partners,” Patrick Barnes, a spokesman for Africa Command, told VOA on April 13.
Other than a small number of counterterrorism advisers, the arrival of the 101st’s soldiers in Somalia’s capital marks the first time conventional U.S. troops have had a presence there since the aborted United Nations mission that yielded the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. The battle, which claimed the lives of 18 U.S. special operations personnel, was memorialized in reporter Mark Bowden’s nonfiction book “Black Hawk Down” and a movie by the same name.
Following the Battle of Mog — known to most U.S. civilians as “the Black Hawk Down incident” — American involvement in Somalia declined sharply. However, the U.S. military typically keeps a small unit of special operations forces in Somalia to support U.S.-Somali military relations, according to Stars and Stripes., and U.S. strategic interest in the nation has begun picking back up in recent years. “The forward presence of U.S. forces in Somalia coincides with a spike in airstrikes against al-Shabab,” writes Stripes’ John Vandiver, “which was the target of at least 14 strikes or raids in 2016 compared with only a handful a year earlier.”
The mission of the 101st Airborne soldiers will be different from that of the current unit operating in Somalia, but there will be some overlap, VOA reports.