The US military continues to intensify its air campaign in Somalia against Shabaab and its rival, the Islamic State. US Africa Command, or AFRICOM, has launched more strikes in 2017 than in any previous year of the air campaign. This month, American targeting expanded to include the Islamic State.
On Nov. 11, US forces conducted an airstrike against Shabaab fighters in Gaduud, killing one, AFRICOM noted in a press release. Gaduud is located approximately 250 miles southwest of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. US airpower hit Shabaab forces as they were “participating in attacks on a US and Somali convoy” that was traveling in the area.
AFRICOM classified this engagement as a “self-defense strike,” a euphemism for close air support for offensive operations. American air power often facilitates offensive raids against Shabaab positions and training camps deep within territory controlled by the group.
In the past, US forces have directed two other strikes against Shabaab in Gaduud, both of which were also classified as “self-defense strikes.” US forces have also organized three additional strikes in nearby Jilib, two of which killed major Shabaab leaders.
The US targeted Shabaab with a second strike on Nov. 12 in the Lower Shabelle region. The attack occurred in Basra village and killed 13 Shabaab fighters, according to Voice of America. If accurate, this would place a sizable formation of Shabaab militants within 30 km of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Shabaab has launched a number of IED and suicide attacks in the capital over the past year.
The same day, US forces struck Islamic State fighters in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in Somalia’s north which borders the strategically-significant Gulf of Aden. US forces launched its first two attacks against the Islamic State in Somalia on Nov. 3. Both assaults occurred in the Puntland region. The Islamic State has a foothold in the region and briefly controlled Qandala, a Puntland port, late last year. It is estimated to have 70 fighters in the area.
An AFRICOM spokeswoman told the Associated Press that these three attacks raise the 2017 total to 26. Five have taken place since Nov. 9. FDD’s Long War Journal has tracked 21 strikes from AFRICOM press releases, and has requested information on the five undisclosed attacks.
At the end of March, the Trump administration loosened the restrictions on the US military to use force against Shabaab after the departments of Defense and State noted that Shabaab has become more lethal and dangerous. Shabaab has killed hundreds of African Union and Somali forces while overrunning bases in southern Somalia, and has maintained its safe havens while expanding areas under its control during 2016.
Increased strikes, particularly those associated with offensive operations, may enhance scrutiny of America’s military role in Africa. The recent deaths of four US soldiers in Niger has increased public attention on the scale of American deployments on the continent, as well as that of the al Qaeda and Islamic State threats.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal. Alexandra Gutowski is a military affairs analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.