The United States launches its first airstrike in Somalia since August

The United States military’s Africa Command announced on Thursday that it conducted a drone strike on Al Shabab extremists in Somalia this week, the first such military action against the Qaeda offshoot in East Africa since August. According to the command, the MQ-9 Reaper hit on Tuesday followed a Shabab attack on ally Somali forces in Duduble, approximately 40 miles northwest of Mogadishu, the city.

The military stated that it was still determining how many Shabab rebels were killed in the operation, but that no civilians were believed to be affected. 

First attack this year by the United States

When the Biden administration entered office in January 2021, it imposed additional restrictions on drone operations outside of active conflict zones while working on a long-term policy. While the Trump administration established broad guidelines for strikes in specific nations and transferred decision-making authority to commanders in the field, plans for strikes are now routinely routed through the White House.

However, because the Africa Command has the power to undertake strikes in support of allied forces under what the military calls collective self-defense, the White House consent was not required in this case, as it was in four prior attacks since President Biden took office.

United States Soldiers didn’t accompany Somali Forces

According to an Africa Command official, no United States soldiers accompanied Somali forces throughout this operation. Instead, American personnel was advising and aiding Somali forces from a remote area, which the official would not specify. Most of the 700 American personnel stationed in Somalia to advise and assist Somali military and counter-terrorism forces were withdrawn in the final weeks of President Donald J. Trump’s presidency and sent to Kenya and Djibouti. 

Mr. Biden and his aides are close to making a decision on a Pentagon-backed proposal to reinstate some of those troops in Somalia to strengthen training and coordination with Somali security forces. Currently, American trainers visit the country on a regular basis. According to American commanders, the Shabab’s rise has been aided by the lack of a consistent presence of trainers, as well as political instability in Somalia.

“I believe Al Shabab is taking advantage of the political leadership in East Africa, notably in Somalia, being distracted by a lengthy political crisis,” stated Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the chief of the Africa Command, recently. “While that’s going on, Al Shabab isn’t under any strain.” “Al Shabab remains Al Qaeda’s largest, wealthiest, and most murderous affiliate,” he said during a visit to Somalia, Djibouti, and Kenya last week.

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