Two months after President Joe Biden announced that American troops would once again deploy in rotations to Somalia, the U.S. struck a group of al-Shabab fighters.
The strike came Sunday as al-Shabab attacked Somali forces, U.S. Africa Command announced Monday.
The strike appears to have killed two fighters, according to the release. The command said its “initial assessment” is that no civilians were injured or killed “given the remote nature of where this engagement occurred.”
“The Federal Government of Somalia and U.S. Africa Command take great measures to prevent civilian casualties,” the release said. “These efforts contrast with the indiscriminate attacks that al-Shabab regularly conducts against the civilian population.”
AFRICOM has in the past been accused by groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of killing civilians in strikes, despite the command claiming otherwise.
The latest strike comes as the U.S. re-establishes rotational deployments to Somalia, where for years U.S. troops have been training local forces in their fight against al-Shabab, the largest and most well-funded militant group associated with al-Qaida.
Biden announced in May that several hundred troops would return to Somalia, a year and a half after President Donald Trump announced the full withdrawal of the resident U.S. mission in Somalia, where about 900 service members had been deployed.
In the intervening time, U.S. troops still did short visits and training missions in Somalia, but mostly continued the partnership virtually, comparing the situation to a long commute.
“My view is that our periodic engagement, also referred to as ‘commuting to work,’ has caused new challenges and risks for our troops,” Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of AFRICOM, told lawmakers in March during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “I believe my assessment is that it is not effective, it’s not efficient, and it puts our troops at greater risk.”
The White House didn’t specify in May how many troops would return, saying only that it would be fewer than 500, including the special operations forces that generally deploy to Africa.
A senior administration official emphasized that the move “will not change the scope of the mission that our special operators have conducted in Somalia … and also will not significantly change the Defense Department’s overall posture and resource dedication in East Africa.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.