While the world focused on Ukraine amid Russia’s unprovoked invasion Thursday, U.S. forces in Africa had just carried out their own operation against an insurgency in Somalia.
In a joint effort with the Federal Government of Somalia, troops assigned to U.S. Africa Command conducted an airstrike against al-Shabab terrorists following an attack on partner forces near Duduble, Feb. 22.
“Violent extremist organizations like al-Shabab present long-term threats to the U.S. and regional interests,” the ensuing Feb. 23 AFRICOM press release read. “The Federal Government of Somalia and the U.S. remain committed to fighting al-Shabaab to prevent the deaths of innocent civilians.”
While a battle-damage assessment is still pending, AFRICOM said an initial assessment revealed that three al-Shabab terrorists were killed and reportedly no civilians injured or killed in the airstrike. U.S. forces are authorized to conduct strikes when supporting combatant commander-designated partner forces under the 2001 Authorization of Use for Military Force.
This is the first such strike against al-Shabab since August.
U.S. troops in Africa also recently reaffirmed their commitment to counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel, despite the Feb. 17 announcement that France, one of the U.S.’s more-involved Western allies, would be withdrawing its forces following a military coup and subsequent requests that French troops leave Mali.
“Our support to the French remains firm even as they reposition their forces. Together, we continue to support our African partners in the fight against violent extremism,” Public Affairs Director for Special Operations Command- Africa, Maj. Andrew Caulk, told Military Times in an email. “We expect no major changes to our posture at this time.”
While French forces under Operation Barkhane — the French-led counterterrorism operation in the Sahel — begin their withdrawal, Russian forces continue not just their invasion of Ukraine but their influence in the AFRICOM area of operations.
“We cannot confirm any significant changes in Russian-backed mercenary posture in Africa,” Caulk said when asked if the invasion in Ukraine had impacted the Russian presence in Africa. “They continue to foment instability in certain African nations and mostly likely leave those countries poorer, weaker, and less secure.”
In early February, AFRICOM Commander Gen. Stephen Townsend had said that the “hand of Russia was visible” in one or two of the five coups seen on the African continent in the past 14 months. He also noted that the Malian military government had brought in members of Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary mercenary legion commonly found in conflicts involving weak governance and extremist organizations.
Wagner Group mercenaries are now also believed to be in Kyiv, according to a U.S. defense official who gave a background brief Feb. 28 regarding the most recent U.S. intelligence on the invasion.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran, Penn State alumna and Master's candidate at New York University for Business and Economic Reporting.