US Forces Strike Al-Shabab Again As War In Somalia Heats Up

news
MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images

A group of al Shabab fighters in war-torn Somalia were targeted by a U.S. self-defense strike on July 4 that has been deemed “successful” by the Department of Defense, the latest salvo in an escalating counterterrorism campaign that has been largely overshadowed by U.S. military operations elsewhere.  


U.S. Africa Command said in a prepared statement that the strike occurred 300 miles southwest of Mogadishu, but did not provide an estimate of how many militants were killed and didn’t specify what prompted the attack — which Stars and Stripes notes is the second strike carried out by U.S. forces in Somalia in less than a week.  

“We will continue to assess the results of the operation, and will provide additional information as appropriate,” the statement reads. “Specific details about the units involved and assets used will not be released in order to ensure operational security.”

AFRICOM is tasked with supporting a 22,000-strong African Union mission in Somalia, composed of troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, while also helping train the Somali National Army for the fight against al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked jihadi group that nearly overran Mogadishu several years ago.

The U.S. military has enjoyed greater autonomy in the Horn of Africa under President Donald Trump. In March, the president granted Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of AFRICOM, broader authority to execute strikes against al-Shabab, a target for U.S. troops for more than a decade.

“It’s very important and very helpful for us to have a little more flexibility, a little bit more timeliness, in terms of decision-making process,” Waldhauser said in a news conference in March. “It allows us to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion.”

Under the previous rules of engagement, U.S. airstrikes could only be used when Somali partner forces were at risk of being overrun, or when those forces requested air support in an engagement. U.S. troops could transport Somali forces to and from raids, but couldn’t participate in them (although in 2016, numerous raids on al-Shabab targets involved American forces).

Now, U.S. special operators can openly accompany regional allies on offensive strikes when commanders on the ground deem it necessary.

“[We] have not been given loosened rules for authority to strike,” Waldhauser said in April. “What we have been given is we’ve been given authority to assist AMISOM forces that are on missions where, if they cannot take care of the situation on their own, then we are authorized to assist them there. We are also authorized to develop targets on our own and take appropriate action if required.”

As further evidence that the U.S. mission in the Horn of Africa is intensifying, the number of American special operators in the region has spiked dramatically over the past decade. In 2006, only 1% of Special Operations forces deployed overseas were in Africa. By 2016, special operators in Africa accounted for more than 17% of the total deployed force, the Miami Herald reports. Waldhauser requested and received 40 additional troops in April, according to the Washington Post.  That month, a contingent of 101st Airborne soldiers also deployed to Somalia in a “training and advisory” role.    

More autonomy for AFRICOM has resulted in more direct fighting between U.S. troops and al Shabab. On May 4, Senior Chief Petty Officer Kyle Milliken, a Navy SEAL, was killed and two other Americans were wounded in a raid on an al-Shabab compound in Somalia. Milliken was the first American service member to die in combat in Somalia since the infamous 1993 Battle of Mogadishu.

The July 4 airstrike appears to be the third carried out under the expanded authorities granted by Trump. The first occurred on June 11, when AFRICOM killed eight militants in an attack that targeted a command and logistics node in southern Somalia; according to Stars and Stripes, the second strike took place on July 2.

Al-Shabab began as a local movement in 2006, as the radical youth wing of Somalia’s now-defunct Islamic Courts, which once controlled Mogadishu before Ethiopian forces drove them out. The group has since evolved into an internationally recognized terrorist organization with global aspirations, staging numerous attacks abroad, including on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping center in 2013. The group also seems to be growing in strength. Al-Shabab militants killed nearly 70 people, including civilians, on June 8, during a vicious attack on a military base in Somalia.  

“Al-Shabaab has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and is dedicated to providing safe haven for terrorist attacks throughout the world,” AFRICOM said in its statement following the July 4 attack. “Al-Shabaab has publicly committed to planning and conducting attacks against the US and our allies.”

WATCH NEXT:

Every once in a while, we run across a photo in The Times-Picayune archives that's so striking that it begs a simple question: "What in the name of Momus Alexander Morgus is going on in this New Orleans photograph?" When we do, we've decided, we're going to share it — and to attempt to answer that question.

Read More Show Less
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces control the monitor of their drone at their advanced position, during the fighting with Islamic State's fighters in Nazlat Shahada, a district of Raqqa. (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)

MUSCAT (Reuters) - The United States should keep arming and aiding the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria, provided the group keeps up the pressure on Islamic State, a senior U.S. general told Reuters on Friday.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump claims the $6.1 billion from the Defense Department's budget that he will now spend on his border wall was not going to be used for anything "important."

Trump announced on Friday that he was declaring a national emergency, allowing him to tap into military funding to help pay for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Read More Show Less

Long before Tony Stark took a load of shrapnel to the chest in a distant war zone, science fiction legend Robert Heinlein gave America the most visceral description of powered armor for the warfighter of the future. Forget the spines of extra-lethal weaponry, the heads-up display, and even the augmented strength of an Iron Man suit — the real genius, Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers, "is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it, like your clothes, like skin."

"Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new full set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking," explains Johnny Rico. "Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians. But a suit, you just wear."

First introduced in 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) purported to offer this capability as America's first stab at militarized powered armor. And while SOCOM initially promised a veritable Iron Man-style tactical armor by 2018, a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose the much-hyped exoskeleton will likely never get off the launch pad.

"The prototype itself is not currently suitable for operation in a close combat environment," SOCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty told Task & Purpose, adding that JATF-TALOS has no plans for an external demonstration this year. "There is still no intent to field the TALOS Mk 5 combat suit prototype."

Read More Show Less

D-Day veteran James McCue died a hero. About 500 strangers made sure of it.

"It's beautiful," Army Sgt. Pete Rooney said of the crowd that gathered in the cold and stood on the snow Thursday during McCue's burial. "I wish it happened for every veteran's funeral."

Read More Show Less