WASHINGTON — U.S. forces in Somalia conducted three precision airstrikes against al-Shabab on Wednesday, killing six terrorists.
Wednesday’s strike is the third in a series of Somalia strikes this month and what appears to be an increasing spate of kinetic strikes against al-Shabab.
Shabab’s deep ties to al-Qaida make it a threat to the U.S. and a prime target of U.S. military and counterterrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa.
On Sept 5, U.S. forces launched an airstrike against al-Shabab, killing three near Bay Region of Somalia, about 75 kilometers west of the capital of Mogadishu, according to officials at U.S. Africa Command. And on Sept. 7, U.S. forces carried out a precision strike, killing one terrorist near Baraawe, Somalia.
All strikes were carried out in support of African Union Mission in Somalia and Somali National Army forces, according to press releases.
Wednesday’s airstrike was conducted about 260 kilometers south of the capital, according to the press release.
U.S. officials overseeing the U.S. mission in Africa would not describe the air assets involved in these strikes.
“We have a range of capabilities at various locations in the region that will allow us to carry out these airstrikes, including manned and unmanned platforms,” said Robyn Mack, a spokesperson for AFRICOM.
On August 25, U.S. forces assisted in an operation with the Somali army that allegedly resulted in civilian casualties. That operation is currently under investigation.
“We are aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Bariire, Somalia. We take any allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and per standard, we are conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground,” according to an AFRICOM press release.
Between August 16-17, the U.S. military conducted three precision strikes against Shabab militants killing seven terrorists, and on August 10 the U.S. launched two kinetic strikes in the Banaadir region of southern Somalia against the resurgent militants, according to AFRICOM press releases.
There are U.S. boots on the ground in Somalia, but officials at U.S. Africa Command would not provide those numbers to Military Times, citing operational security.
“The troops in Somalia are there supporting the counterterrorism mission as well as other activities. This includes a limited number of trainers and advisers plus a small military coordination cell to support AMISOM and Somali security forces,” said Mack.
In March, Trump granted new authorities to the U.S. military to target the al-Qaida linked al-Shabab militants. The new authorities “allows U.S. forces to conduct lethal action against al-Shabab within a geographically-defined area in support of partner forces in Somalia,” according to an AFRICOM press release.
Over the last several weeks, U.S. forces have made good use of those authorities by launching multiple airstrikes and participating in a ground operation in the conflict prone country. The heightened operations tempo highlights U.S. forces in the region are trying to beat back militant gains made by the Islamist group over the last year.
“Shabab is absolutely resurgent, they’ve killed a lot of African Union troops, overrun bases, and conducted attacks and ambushes,” said Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Mack told Military Times, “Al-Shabab maintains significant size numbers-wise to continue to pose a threat to Somali/East African regional security, to include western personnel in the region.”
In 2016 there were roughly 14 strikes targeting Shabab, and this year already there are nearly 16 strikes, Roggio told Military Times.
The State Department's 2016 Country Report on Terrorism described the militant group as “the most potent threat to regional stability, having regained territory in parts of southern and central Somalia.”
The report further blames a lull in offensive operations against Shabab as a main driver in its resurgence. “The terrorist group gained the time and space needed to regroup and recruit new fighters,” the report says.
Trump’s new authorities to target the militant group is a recognition of the State Department’s findings, according to Roggio.
“[Shabab] are part of the global network, they’ve had al-Qaida leaders serve as senior Shabab leaders,” and vice versa, Roggio told Military Times.
The U.S. has seen this game before, beating back insurgent groups in Yemen just to see them rise back again, Roggio said, making a comparison to other U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
“These groups are more than just networked terrorist groups, they’re Islamist insurgencies,” he added.