US military conducts first airstrike against Al-Shabaab under Biden administration
MOGADISHU, Somalia - The US military conducted the first drone strike against Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, which now becomes the first-ever airstrike in the Horn of Africa nation under the administration of President Joe Biden, who assumed office in January 2021.
According to the Department of Defense, Tuesday's airstrike was conducted against the militants after they ambushed Somali National Army [SNA] commandos, the Danab Special Forces in Galkayo, a troubled town in Galmadug state in Central Somalia.
Cindi King, the Pentagon spokesperson also confirmed the latest development. Danab Special Forces, who are trained by the US Africa Command, have been conducting operations against the Al-Shabaab group across the country.
The Biden administration placed new limits on drone strikes outside active war zones when it took office on Jan. 20, to give it time to develop a permanent policy. The Trump administration set broad rules for strikes in particular countries and delegated authority to commanders in the field about when to carry them out, but proposals for strikes are now generally routed through the White House.
Although the White House has been cautious with the airstrikes, in this case, Mrs. King said, White House approval was not needed because the Africa Command has the authority to conduct strikes in support of allied forces under what the military calls collective self-defense.
In January this year, just five days before Biden took over from Donald Trump, the US withdrew 700 soldiers from the war-torn country. The troops were repositioned in Kenya and Djibouti, but there have been talks to recall them to Somalia.
Mrs. King said the Danab commandos were being advised remotely by American trainers when they came under attack.
“There were no U.S. forces accompanying Somali forces during this operation,” Mrs. King said in an email. “U.S. forces were conducting a remote advise-and-assist mission in support of designated Somali partner forces.”
Galkayo is a divided city that sits on a fault line between two major clans, and it is on a major smuggling route used by militants traveling between Al Shabab’s heartland in southern Somalia and the northern part of the country. The city also sits along the border of Puntland and Galmadug.
According to Mrs. King, the ongoing fighting between Al-Shabaab and Somali forces was delaying the Africa Command’s assessment of the airstrike, the seventh overall this year against the militants, but the first since Jan. 19, the day before President Biden’s inauguration.
Biden's administration has been considering redeploying soldiers to Somalia following a host of requests from the country. Already, a number of them have been sent to northeastern Kenya where they are helping Kenya Defense Forces to counter Al-Shabaab.
An interagency review, underway for several months, has not yet been completed, a U.S. official said. But under one option being considered, a smaller number of American troops would be redeployed to military bases in southern Somalia, near the border with Kenya, where Al Shabab’s influence is strongest.
The option of continuing American military operations from bases in northern Kenya — informally known as “over the horizon” — has grown less attractive in recent months since a diplomatic spat between Somalia and Kenya severed air links between the two countries for several weeks.
The Somalis and Kenyans are at odds over several issues, including ownership of a triangle of oil-rich waters in the Indian Ocean. In May, diplomats from Qatar mediated between the two countries and appeared to have reached a deal.
But soon relations plunged again, and Somalia suspended all flights from Kenya, including those involving American military aircraft based at Manda Bay, in northern Kenya, which were positioned to carry out counterterrorism missions.