In the midst of festivities leading into Independence Day, the U.S. opportuned the distraction to bomb yet another sovereign nation in the name of fighting terrorism, launching airstrikes against al-Shabaab militants rebelling against the U.N.-backed Somali government headed by U.S. citizen, President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed.
These strikes on Sunday follow the granting of expanded powers to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) by President Trump earlier this year, and seems to be the second of its kind.
“We are currently assessing the results of the operation, and will provide additional information as appropriate,” AFRICOM spokesman Chuck Prichard asserted Monday.
Following the airstrikes, AFRICOM spokesman Patrick Barnes also noted, “U.S. forces remain committed to supporting the federal government of Somalia, the Somali National Army and our AMISOM partners in defeating al-Shabab and establishing a safe and secure environment in Somalia.”
Pentagon officials refused to provide details about Sunday’s strike — including an exact location or what target was hit — but described it as similar to another which took place mid-June.
State-run Voice of Americareports, “Local sources said the strike on Sunday targeted vehicles in Kunya Barrow, in the lower Shabelle region. Sources also said the strike was conducted against a high-ranking al-Shabab militant, without going into further detail.”
According toReuters, “Since being pushed out of the capital Mogadishu in 2011, al Shabaab has lost control of most of Somalia's cities and towns. But it retains a strong presence in swathes of the south and center and carries out major gun and bomb attacks.
“The group aims to topple Somalia's government, drive out African Union peacekeeping troops and impose its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law.”
Allied with al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab — which means “The Youth” in Arabic — “emerged as the radical youth wing of Somalia's now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts, which controlled Mogadishu in 2006, before being forced out by Ethiopian forces,” the BBCdescribed in December.
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“There are numerous reports of foreign jihadists going to Somalia to help al-Shabab, from neighbouring countries, as well as the US and Europe. It is banned as a terrorist group by both the US and the UK and is believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters.
“Al-Shabab advocates the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi version of Islam, while most Somalis are Sufis.”
U.S. ground troops were deployed to Somalia earlier this year — for the first time since 1994 — nearly a quarter century. Al-Shabaab vacated capital city, Mogadishu, in 2011, but has retained control over significant areas, posing serious risk to the weak regime of the president installed by the U.S. in February.
According to the U.S. Military, the first such drone strike had been conducted on June 11, killing eight militants, and a Navy Seal was killed in May in a joint operation with Somali government forces against the al-Qaeda-allied group.
“The United States military has been training and advising African Union and Somali government forces in the country while becoming more directly involved in its civil war for the past several years,” the New York Timesreports.
“Soon after Mr. Trump took office, the Defense Department proposed an escalation of force against the Shabab. The Pentagon wanted Mr. Trump to declare parts of Somalia to be an area of active hostilities, exempting it from the need to obey special targeting limits, known as the Presidential Policy Guidance, that President Barack Obama imposed in 2013 for counterterrorism strikes outside conventional war zones.
“In late March, Mr. Trump signed off on the Pentagon’s proposal to exempt much of Somalia from the 2013 limits, clearing the way for the American military to carry out purely offensive strikes, and without going through interagency vetting.”
In other words, AFRICOM has essentially an unfaltering green light to act aggressively in Somalia — a nation also in the grips of stultifying famine, putting six million people in danger — in order to rein in al-Shabaab.
Despite having received expanded authority, General Thomas D. Waldhauser, head of AFRICOM, has exercised extreme caution in carrying out drone strikes — vowing to greatly reduce or eliminate civilian casualties incidental to targeted actions.
Minimal reporting and limited information from the Pentagon leave a number of details about the Sunday morning strike unknown or murky, including whether or not there were civilian casualties.
Meanwhile, the bulk of Americans will continue celebrating Independence Day, unaware or apathetic when the nation whose flag many consider a sacred sign of freedom instead means death, misery, and destruction from above in places like Somalia and Syria.