The Obama administration and US military leaders continue to attempt to hide direct combat operations behind the mission of advising and assisting the “counterterrorism operations” of foreign governments and militaries. United States African Command, or AFRICOM, announced today that it launched what it described as “a self-defense strike” against Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia and East Africa, to protect US advisors who were accompanying a Somali counterterrorism force.
On September 26, in coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. forces conducted a self-defense strike against al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-associated terrorist group, in Caba, near Kismayo, Somalia.
During a Somali-led counterterrorism operation, a group of armed al-Shabaab fighters attacked, threatening the safety and security of the Somali force and their U.S. advisors. Somali forces returned fire in self-defense, killing several militants. However, enemy fighters continued to attack the Somali force. In response, the U.S. conducted a self-defense strike to neutralize the threat, killing four (4) enemy fighters.
Garowe Online, a Somali news source, said that the raid targeted “Shabaab training camps” and that “several high-ranking Al Shabaab commanders were nabbed in the military operation which also left 5 militants dead.”
AFRICOM’s latest so-called self-defense strike against Shabaab highlights the difference between the rhetoric and the reality of the Obama administration and the US military’s deployment of forces against jihadist groups overseas. The administration and the military often insist that US forces are deployed in countries such as Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen in a purely “advise and assist” role and are not engaging in combat operations. And yet, in the case of the Somali raid that targeted Shabaab training camps, US forces clearly are operating in a combat environment — if you raid an al Qaeda camp, you should expect to be engaged in direct fighting. In this instance, clearly AFRICOM was prepared for forces to engage in battle, as US air assets were on station.
Shabaab isn’t merely a terrorist group that operates on the cellular level and can be taken out with a series of pinpoint counterterrorism operations. Shabaab possesses a military, an intelligence service, and an administrative service (it routinely advertises the latter), and holds a significant amount of territory, which it governs. Calling the Somali raid a “counterterrorism operation” and the accompanying US airstrike a “self-defense strike” is a weak attempt to mask the fact that Somalia is at war with an entrenched enemy, and the US military is actively fighting in that war.