AFRICOM masks military operations in Somalia as ‘self defense strikes’

The US military continues to classify combat operations against Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, as “self-defense strikes,” even though many of the incidents reported, such as the targeting of training camps and raids in Shabaab-held territory, are clearly offensive in nature. United States African Command, or AFRICOM, has now launched two so-called self-defense strikes against Shabaab in three days.

“During a Somali-led counterterrorism operation to disrupt an al-Shabaab Improvised Explosive Device (IED) making network, a group of armed al-Shabaab fighters attacked, threatening the safety and security of the Somali force and their US advisors,” AFRICOM said in a press release.

“Somali forces returned fire in self-defense,” AFRICOM continued. “The US conducted a self-defense strike to neutralize the threat, killing nine enemy fighters.”

The operation took place in Galcayo, more than 430 miles north of Mogadishu. AFRICOM dismissed reports that civilians were killed in the strike.

“We have assessed all credible evidence and determined those reports are incorrect,” AFRICOM stated.

The strike is the second of its kind in Somalia in three days. On Sept. 26, AFRICOM launched another “self-defense strike” against Shabaab forces in Caba near Kismayo. AFRICOM said it killed four fighters during a counterterrorism operation, but did not discuss the target of the raid. Press reporting indicates that the Somali and US forces raided Shabaab training camps. [See Threat Matrix report, US launches ‘self-defense strike’ against Shabaab in southern Somalia.]

AFRICOM’s attempts to mask direct combat operations against Shabaab targets such as training camps and IED factories as advise and assist missions whitewashes the more than 10-year-old war that the Somali government, the African Union, and the United States has waged against al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia. This year, 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.

The US military has been launching airstrikes and naval bombardments, as well as special operations raids against Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, since 2006. Many of these raids were in direct support of military operations, such as airstrikes and naval bombardments in 2007 and that supported Ethiopia’s invasion to depose the Islamic Courts Union.

The Long War Journal has recorded 29 such operations against Shabaab and the Islamic Courts since 2006 (see list below). The number of US military operations in Somalia may well be higher, however, it has been difficult to track strikes against Shabaab as there are multiple actors involved in targeting the group, including Kenya and Ethiopian. The US military has not released statements for each encounter. Additionally, for a long period of time, Iranian news outlets muddied the waters by attributing every nearly every action against Shabaab in southern Somalia as a US drone strike. Verifiable press reporting has also been inconsistent.

AFRICOM has loosely defined targets such as IED facilities and training camps as “counterterrorism operations,” when in reality these are military operations since they are often launched against hardened or well-defended targets in areas under direct Shabaab control. Like other al Qaeda branches, Shabaab controls a significant amount of territory and operates a military, intelligence and services, and governs areas it controls. AFRICOM planners are clearly aware of this, and, as the last two missions attest, air assets were on station to quickly strike Shabaab fighters.

AFRICOM has admitted that it is conducting military operations in areas governed by Shabaab, and yet labels these operations as self-defense missions.

US operations targeting Shabaab since the beginning of 2007:

Sept. 28, 2016 – US forces kill nine Shabaab fighters during a raid on a Shabaab IED factory near Galcayo.

Sept. 26, 2016 – US forces kill four Shabaab fighters during raids on training camps near Kismayo.

Sept. 5, 2016 – The US launched two “self-defense strikes” near Tortoroow after a large Shabaab force attacked a “a Somali-led counterterrorism operation.” Four Shabaab fighters were killed.

Aug. 30, 2016 – US forces killed two Shabaab fighters after they attacked a Somali counterterrorism force near Gobanale.

June 21, 2016 – US troops “conducted a self-defense strike against Shabaab, killing three. The operation was conducted after it was assessed the terrorists were planning and preparing to conduct an imminent attack against US forces.”

May 31, 2016 – Somali troops, backed by US forces, killed Shabaab member Mohammed Dulyadeen, a.k.a. Mohammed Kuno and Kuno Gamadere, during an operation near Gaduud.

May 27, 2016 – The US killed Abdullahi Haji Da’ud, “a senior military commander” for Shabaab, in south-central Somalia.

May 13, 2016 – The US launched “defensive fire missions” which “took place in remote locations in Somalia under al-Shabaab control.”

May 12, 2016 – The US launched “defensive fire missions” which “took place in remote locations in Somalia under al-Shabaab control.”

May 12, 2016 – The US launched “defensive fire missions” which “took place in remote locations in Somalia under al-Shabaab control.”

May 9, 2016 – The US launched “defensive fire missions” which “took place in remote locations in Somalia under al-Shabaab control.”

March 31, 2016 – The US killed Hassan Ali Dhoore, a dual hatted al Qaeda and Shabaab leader who also served in the Amniyat, in an airstrike.

March 10, 2016 – US special operations forces targeted a Shabaab training camp in Awdigle raid.

March 5, 2016 – The US military announced that it launched an airstrike which targeted a Shabaab’s “Raso Camp” north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu. The US justified the strike on al Qaeda’s official East African branch by saying that fighters there “posed an imminent threat.” More than 150 Shabaab fighters are said to have been killed.

Dec. 2, 2015 – US killed Abdirahman Sandhere, a.k.a. Ukash, a senior Shabaab leader, and two other “associates” in an airstrike.

March 12, 2015 – The US military confirmed that it killed Adan Garaar, a senior official in the Amniyat and “a key operative responsible for coordinating al-Shabaab’s external operations” in a drone strike.

Feb. 3, 2015 – US troops targeted and killed Yusuf Dheeq, the head of the Amniyat.

Dec. 29, 2014 – US forces killed Tahlil Abdishakur, the leader of the Amniyat, in an airstrike in Somalia

Sept. 1, 2014 – The US military killed Ahmed Godane, the co-founder of and emir of Shabaab, also known as Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, in an airstrike south of Mogadishu.

Jan. 25, 2014 – A US airstrike killed Sahal Iskudhuq, a senior Shabaab commander who served as a high-ranking member of the Amniyat.

Oct. 23, 2013 – A US drone strike killed Anta Anta “the mastermind of al Shabab’s suicide missions.”

Oct. 5, 2013 – US special Operations Forces targeted Shabaab’s external operations chief Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir (Ikrima), but fails to capture or kill him. A Swedish and a Sudanese Shabaab fighter were killed.

January 2012 – A US airstrike killed Bilal al Berjawi, a British national of Lebanese descent.

September 2009 – US special operations forces killed Saleh ali Nabhan, a top al Qaeda and Shabaab leader who was involved in the Kenya and Tanzania bombings

May 2008 – A US airstrike killed senior Shabaab and al Qaeda leader Aden Hashi Ayro.

March 2008 – A US airstrike targeted a safe house in Somalia.

Spring 2008 – The US killed Aden Hashi Ayro and Sheikh Muhyadin Omar in an airstrike in the spring of 2008. Before his death, Ayro was the leader of Shabaab.

June 2007 – US targeted Saleh ali Nabhan, a top al Qaeda and Shabaab leader who was involved in the Kenya and Tanzania bombings

January 2007 – The US military targeted Abu Taha al-Sudani (or Tariq Abdullah), Qaeda’s leader in East Africa, and either Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, both who . Fazul is al Qaeda’s operations chief for East Africa, while Sudani is the chief strategist and ideologue. Sudani is thought to have been killed in that airstrike (Shabaab said he was killed in an airstrike in 2007.)

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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  • IronV says:

    Outstanding. I don’t care how they label these strikes as long as they continue to aggressively execute them. The only way we’re going to manage the cancer of radical Islam is with the strategy of “advise and assist and kick ass when necessary.”

  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    According to your chronology, the “defensive” (cough) wording appears to have begun this year. Might AFRICOM’s terminology be directed toward the White House. In other words, since the WH wants to disengage America militarily in the ME and the Horn, is the “defensive” claim necessary in order to get WH approval? Might it be AFRICOM’s way of covering its political tail in the closing days of this Administration?

  • Evan says:

    Designating such operations as “self defense,” is dishonest, at best, and in my thinking must be attributed to the political climate/political correctness, as it’s certainly not connected to the reality on the ground.

    These missions are offensive in nature, they’re meant to destroy and degrade Shabaabs’ abilities to train fighters, deploy suicide bombers/ieds, etc.
    To think that our military, or any military or any other organized group of fighting men, could infiltrate deep into Shabaab controlled territory, and then engage in operations such as destroying training camps and facilities, or bomb making factories, or any other significant enemy asset, without in turn being engaged forcefully by the enemy is pure foolishness.
    Of course they anticipated being attacked, which is evidenced by the presence of air assets on station.. These missions are thoroughly planned, and contingencies for situations wherein US advisors are threatened with annihilation are appropriately included, obviously.

    I have no problem or issue whatsoever with US forces taking the fight to AQ, where ever we find them. I’m pleased that our brave fighting men are able to provide serious assets and act as invaluable combat multipliers when teamed with our African partners. I’m displeased that the U.S. gov, and higher military headquarters administration chooses to engage in “word games,” when it comes to taking the fight to the enemy.
    There is absolutely no realistic or reasonable purpose for labeling these missions as “self defense.”
    At least, not any that are grounded in reality.

  • laurent le bloa says:

    It’is easier to speak about antiterrorist operation than about military operations. For Shabaabs terror attacks are clearly a way to wage war and the war a way of commiting acts of terrors against the population. As the movement Shabaab is less and less in measure to lead military operations it launches terror acts and murders campaign. Even if the organization is structured with militias and terrorist cells, training, movment of cells, the organization of attacks, combined attacks, explosive car laden followed by assault… make that there is however always a link between militias and terrorist cells. These two aspects must be together treated. US Forces involvment in military operations in Somalia is necessary to counter terror threat.United Kingdom thinks the same way.

  • Dennis says:

    Aren’t we at a declared war state with al Qaida already? Even still, i’ve no problem with the military hunting these roachs down, it should be a bi-partisan plan, with no quarter given, even if asked for. Why are some folks always laying down obstacles to our war-fighting people? No amount of us playing” nice” will ever change there goals.


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