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Amid Al-Shabaab menace in Somalia, US army seeks approval for airstrikes in Kenya

By Abuga Makori , Garowe Online

NAIROBI, Kenya - It is just a matter of weeks if not months before the US Africa Command embarks on a serious mission in northeastern and coastal Kenya, which will see airstrikes launched against the Al-Shabaab militants, the New York Times reports, in what could be the final stretch to degrade the militants.

For the last five years, the US Africa Command, popularly known as AFRICOM, has intensified attacks against Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, but have mainly focused on the airstrikes, which are deemed necessary especially when pursuing the terrorists in their tough territories especially in Jubba and Shebelle regions.

This year alone, the Command has waged 46 airstrikes, killing over 70 militants in the process. Among those killed include Bashir Qorgab, who was linked to January 5 attack at Manda Airfield in Kenya, Yusuf Jiis, and more recently, one Abdulkadir Commandos, who succumbed in August after an airstrike in Lower Shebelle.

But it's Kenya, an ally of the US, which has borne the brunt of Al-Shabaab raids, with northeastern counties of Mandera, Garissa, and Wajir being significantly affected due to proximity to Somalia. Also affected is the coastal county of Lamu, where the militants waged an attack at a US Naval Base in Manda, which left three Americans dead.

And with this progress, NYT reported, the US Africa Command through the Department of Defense has made a request to be allowed to carry airstrikes in northeastern and coastal Kenya, something which could significantly boost the fight against the militants.

The new authorities, which must still be approved by Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and then President Trump, do not necessarily mean the United States will start carrying out drone attacks in Kenya. Nevertheless, they would give Africa Command permission under certain circumstances to expand the counterterrorism drone war into another country.

The push for the expanded authorities traces back to a Shabab attack in January on a military base in Kenya that housed United States troops, the officials said. The attack on the airfield at Manda Bay killed three Americans and caused millions of dollars in damage, NYT added.

Bashir Qorgab was traced in Saakow town within Somalia, after having engineered the attack at Manda Airfield, and such actions necessitated the decision by AFRICOM to push for the strategy. The militants have often sneaked into Kenya due to the porous border of the region.

Col. Christopher P. Karns, the command’s chief spokesman, declined to comment on the new authorities. “Africom certainly recognizes the need to apply consistent international pressure on Al-Shabab and to monitor their activity, presence, and actively confront them in order to prevent their spread,” he said in an email. “This can take several forms.”

Lt. Col. Anton T. Semelroth, a Pentagon spokesman, added in an email, “The U.S. military will defend U.S. personnel, citizens and homeland as necessary anywhere in the world.” He also did not address the new guidelines.

Last week, the US Africa Command ranked Al-Shabaab as a dangerous outfit against her citizens and allies in a statement that was released by General Stephen Townsend, who is the commander of the outfit. The US, he insisted, will continue assisting Somalia in the fight.

Barely a week ago, the militants raided a US army outpost known as Janaa Abdalla about 60 KM West of Kismayo, in an attack which left at least two Danab soldiers dead. According to the Command, a US serviceman was injured, and Al-Shabaab announced that the troops have since abandoned the area.

“Al Shabab remained intent on and capable of conducting attacks inside Kenya and along the Somalia-Kenya border, consistent with its stated intent to compel Kenyan forces to withdraw from Somalia,” an interagency inspectors general report released on Sept. 1 concluded.

Since January, Al-Shabaab has executed close to 20 attacks in the region, leaving over 30 Kenyans mainly security forces dead. In fact, the government of Kenya withdrew non-local teachers from northeastern and Lamu early this year, further causing an education crisis since the militants have been targeting this particular group.

A furious President Uhuru Kenyatta summoned local leadership and tasked them to help security forces identify Al-Shabaab operatives, arguing that "the attacks can't happen without your knowledge". Since then, several militants have either been killed or captured by Special Forces from the Kenya Defense Forces [KDF].

Across the border, the KDF team has intensified raids against the Al-Shabaab especially in Gedo and Lower Jubba regions, recording significant progress including but not limited to liberating strategic towns such as Kismayo. There are close to 3,500 KDF soldiers in Somalia who joined AMISOM in 2012, a year just into the Operation Linda Nchi.

Despite the gains, the troops have also suffered casualties, particularly in El-Adde and Kulbiyow, where the militants killed close to 300 soldiers in 2016 and 2017 respectively. But since then, the forces have managed to secure Sectors II and VI, besides helping to restore normalcy in Jubaland.

The announcement by the US could significantly boost KDF, which is scheduled to withdraw in 2021 and move closer to the Kenya-Somalia border, where they will be monitoring the militants.

The KDF team carried airstrikes along the border and deep into the Gedo region in April this year, but the move was met with resistance by the Federal Government of Somalia, which claimed that civilians were targeted in the raids.


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