Counterterrorism strikes in Somalia continue, despite reports of a drawdown

US counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia show no signs of slowing down despite a report last week that said the Pentagon plans to reduce its role there. The US military has launched four airstrikes against Shabaab during the first week of 2018.

US Africa Command, which directs operations against Shabaab – al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia and East Africa – announced that it launched two strikes against Shabaab fighters and killed four of them as they attacked Somali forces near Baqdaad just north of Mogadishu on Jan. 7. AFRICOM killed six fighters near Dheerow Sanle on Jan. 6, and 10 more in the same area on Jan. 3.

AFRICOM has continued the increased pace of attacks against Shabaab, as well as the Islamic State’s network in Somalia, which began after the Trump administration recognized the growing threat of terrorist groups in the country. In 2017, the US launched 31 attacks against Shabaab and four more against the Islamic State. The total number of strikes in 2017 was greater than the combined number against Shabaab (30) for the previous eight years, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal.

That number grew to 47 in 2018; all of the operations targeted Shabaab, which is the dominant terrorist insurgency group operating in Somalia.

The increased pace of attacks against Shabaab flies in the face of an NBC News report that indicated that the Pentagon “plans to scale back its role in Somalia and curtail airstrikes against al-Shabab insurgents after having taken out many of the group’s senior operatives.” The NBC News report, which was officially denied by the Pentagon, coincided with a Trump administration-ordered withdrawal from Syria and a planned reduction of US forces in Afghanistan.

The report quoted one unnamed official as saying that “we’re running out of targets” in Somalia. Unfortunately, that could not be further from the truth. Despite the increased targeting of Shabaab over the last few years, there is no evidence to support the assertion that Shabaab’s insurgency has been abated or its leadership cadre has been depleted.

Shabaab continues to maintain an effective insurgency, controls large rural areas in southern and central Somalia, and continues to threaten Somali cities and towns. The two strikes which took place yesterday and targeted Shabaab fighters as they attacked Somali troops occurred just 18 miles northwest of Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

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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