US military to actively target Shabaab in Somalia

The US military has been granted approval by President Donald Trump to target Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, with “additional precision fires.” This now makes Somalia part of what the Obama administration had described as “areas of active hostilities,” where jihadist groups like al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other terrorist groups can be directly targeted by the US military with looser restrictions on the use of force.

“The president has approved a Department of Defense proposal to provide additional precision fires in support of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security forces operations to defeat Shabaab in Somalia,” Pentagon Spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said in a statement released by the Department of Defense.

“This authority is consistent with our approach of developing capable Somali security forces and supporting regional partners in their efforts to combat Shabaab. Somali and AMISOM forces have already achieved significant success in recapturing territory from Shabaab, and additional US support will help them increase pressure on Shabaab and reduce the risk to our partner forces when they conduct operations,” Davis continued.

The new directive to pursue Shabaab will deny it “safe havens from which it could attack U.S. citizens or U.S. interests in the region.”

The Pentagon’s desire to actively target Shabaab reflects the growing concern that al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa is gaining strength despite the presence of both AMISOM and US forces. Over the past year, Shabaab has regained control of some towns and rural areas in the south that it lost during an AMISOM offensive that began in 2011. In addition, Shabaab has stepped up suicide attacks and guerrilla operations in and around the capital of Mogadishu. Furthermore, Shabaab used a sophisticated laptop bomb in an attempt to down a Somali airline in 2016. This attack was cited by the US government as one of the reasons that electronics have been banned in the cabins of airplanes departing from 10 airports in the Middle East. [See What’s really behind Trump’s laptopban.]

During the Obama administration, the US military was conducting raids against training camps and other operations in Shabaab-held territory which were clearly offensive in nature. US Africa Command [AFRICOM] described such operations as “self-defense strikes” in an effort to skirt restrictions on operations against Shabaab in areas outside of active hostilities. [For more information, [See AFRICOM masks military operations in Somalia as ‘self defense strikes’.]

AFRICOM’s attempts to hide direct combat operations against Shabaab targets such as training camps and IED factories as advise and assist missions whitewashed the more than 10-year-old war that the weak Somali government, the African Union, and the United States has waged against al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia. In 2016, AFRICOM announced nine “self-defense strikes” and “defensive fires” missions in Somalia. The Department of Defense has even justified airstrikes on Shabaab training camps, such as the one in Raso on March 5, 2016, as defensive operations.

Under the Obama administration, areas of active hostilities included Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and in Libya for a brief period of time in 2016 when the military was directly supporting the offensive against the Islamic State in Sirte. In these areas, the US military was directly engaged in the fight against the jihadist group and can operate under looser restrictions in targeting the terrorist insurgent groups.

In the areas outside of active hostilities, which included countries such as Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and though not stated by the US government, Pakistan, the US military was forced to operate under strict rules of engagement that insisted that any operation targeting terrorists include the standard of near-certainty of no civilian casualties. The strict rules of engagement has allowed jihadist groups to thrive and expand their insurgencies against weak central governments.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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6 Comments

  • Arjuna says:

    Thanks for the perspective in the article.
    A place I know well, sadly. And where we got our asses kicked and left.
    Bin Laden may have never gotten so cocky if we stayed.
    This is why you gotta get down and do it (I wish this event was more known):
    https://qz.com/632603/another-laptop-bomb-has-exploded-in-somalia/

  • Andrew J Franklin says:

    I believe that Al Shabaab will again strike soft targets in and around Nairobi especially poorly secured malls and clubs frequented by US Citizens and other westerners; attacks on school buses taking foreign students to expensive international schools cannot be ruled out.
    The Kenya security forces are already stressed and over stretched and will not be able to cope.

  • den says:

    Ok……here we go . First down and ten. Hopefully our Intel guys have picked something up on “you guys”. Ready? ….

  • Arjuna says:

    At least we’re on the same (SNAFU) page:
    14:32 GMT
    Somalia leader declares country a war zone, replaces chiefs
    Somalia’s new president has declared the country a war zone and replaced its military and intelligence chiefs while instructing the army to prepare a new offensive against Al-Shabab extremists.
    The first step to recovery is admitting you need help.

  • Laticia says:

    I can’t hear antnyihg over the sound of how awesome this article is.

  • le bloa says:

    Banning restrictions and approving additional precision strikes on Al Shabaab in Somalia, what is the aim and consequences. This decision is almost a question of semantic and a kind of “show of force” rather a strategic decision.
    -1 In the late of September, 2016 in course of a special operation American Forces struck by mistake militiamen belonging to Galmuduug Region. It denies that US Forces can’t react when the conditions arerequired ( ” Self-defence strike “).
    -2 More than one year ago (february 2017) Explosive device built into laptop computer explosed in-board aircraft after it took off Mogadiscio.This event motivated the recent ban to laptop device inboard commercial flights.That is more communication than a real security measure. One should notice that if the bomb was hidden in a laptop , the complicity of an airport’s employee had been necessary to introduce the bomb into the airport and pass through checkpoints. In march 2016 somalian police foiled a similar attack, laptop explosed at screening aera.
    -3 In spite of the president of United States’s assessments, the support of American Forces for the UAMISOM and for Somalian National Forces brings resultats. Al Shabaab movement lost its military capacities and is quiet not any more able to conduct large-scale military opértions. Al Shabaab takes advantage of weaknesses of the National Army and of the UAMISOM Forces. In place of military actions it commits especially murders, IED and suicide attack, which, are more and more sophisticated and lethal. Number of civilian casualties is increasing.
    -4 Until now numerous attacks were conducted by “unidentified aircrafts”, one could not determine: their nationalities: KDF, USAFor English Special forces. This avoided giving pretexts to Islamist propaganda against the western countries
    Additional strikes does not mean reinforcement of US Military Forces in Somalia (Special Forces, Helicopters). It is not obvious that the efficiency of strikes will increase, furthermore it will give pretexts to the Islamists to lead an anti-western propaganda which will allow Shabaab to recruit in East Africa, the fighters whom they have more difficulty to find in Somalia. For many years (since 2013) Al Shabaab movement has real difficulties, Internal tensions in the group are growing, especially between somalian and foreign fighters. One does not miss this opportunity.

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