US Special Forces soldier killed in Shabaab ambush

A US Special Forces soldier was killed earlier today in an ambush by al Qaeda’s East African branch, Shabaab. At least four other US Special Forces personnel, as well as one Somali special forces soldier, were also wounded. The Special Forces soldiers were attacked in an area that is a known Shabaab stronghold.

According to US Forces Africa Command (AFRICOM), the assault took place near the southern Somali town of Jamaame, a town under the control of the al Qaeda branch. The US military targeted Shabaab fighters in Jamaame earlier this year. A Feb. 21 airstrike in the coastal town killed four Shabaab fighters, AFRICOM noted the day after the strike.

The Special Forces team and its Somali partners, known as the Danab unit, were reportedly near a small make-shift outpost near Jamaame when they came under fire, The New York Times reported. An armed drone was reportedly overhead, but it is unknown if it was used during the firefight.

Joint US-Somali raids near Jamaame were first reported last night by local sources. The raids reportedly targeted Shabaab camps in Jamaame, Kaban, and Kabsuma, just 40 miles outside of the coastal city of Kismayo. However, no American fatalities were reported until earlier today.

AFRICOM said that “A large force consisting of approximately 800 forces from the SNSF and KDF were conducting a multi-day operation approximately 350 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu when the attack occurred.”

“The mission’s objectives were to clear al-Shabaab from contested areas, liberate villages from al-Shabaab control, and establish a permanent combat outpost designed to increase the span of Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) security and governance. The U.S. provided advice, assistance and aerial surveillance during the mission,” the AFRICOM press release continued.

On Telegram, Shabaab has boasted about its ambush in various messages sent to its followers. “Killing and wounding more than five American soldiers in an attack by Shabaab fighters on an American military base,” its initial claim of responsibility reported. Another post described the offensive as a “fierce attack.” Shabaab’s claim of responsibility has been shared on numerous al Qaeda-linked Telegram channels.

This is the first time a US service member was killed in Somalia since last year when a Navy SEAL died during an operation against Shabaab. It is also the first time a US service member was killed in Africa since last year’s deadly ambush in Niger.

US Special Operations Forces often work in the shadows in Africa. The public is largely unaware of Special Operations on the continent until casualties are taken.

The US military, under orders from the Trump administration, stepped up operations against Shabaab in March 2017 after the State Department’s the Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 noted that Shabaab has retained its safe haven in the Jubba River Valley, retaken ground in the south, forced poorly resourced African Union forces to cede territory after spectacular complex assaults, and continues to plot against the US and the West. [See Shabaab gains in Somalia due to ‘lapses in offensive counterterrorism operations’.]

In 2017, US forces conducted a record 35 strikes in Somalia, outnumbering the combined strikes of the entire previous air campaign, which began in 2007. The sharp increase in Somalia can be partly explained by AFRICOM’s expanded responsibilities in Somalia. Last year also included the first air assaults against the Islamic State in Somalia, which was targeted in four strikes.

Shabaab has remained a persistent threat to the Somali government and neighboring countries despite efforts by the African Union and the US to defeat it over the past decade. Over the past several years, the group has launched attacks that have killed hundreds of African Union forces from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, and Ethiopia. These Shabaab assaults have forced African Union troops to withdraw from some cities and towns in southern Somalia.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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