Somalia: US launches strike Against Shabaab ‘self-defense strike’
US Africa Command announced that it launched an airstrike against Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia, while US advisors accompanied Somali and African Union forces in a counterterrorism exercise on Jan. 7.
AFRICOM described the offensive under the guise of a “self-defense strike,” as it did on nine other occasions in 2016, when it was really another skirmish in a decade-long military operation against Shabaab.
According to AFRICOM, US advisors accompanied a combined force of Somali and African Union troops on a raid in Gaduud, a town just north of Kismayo in southern Somalia. The area is a known hotbed for Shabaab, which has taken over nearby towns and villages.
AFRICOM said the combined military force was conducting offensive operations to “disrupt” al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia.
“During a counterterrorism operation to disrupt al-Shabaab, the combined partner forces observed al-Shabaab fighters threatening their safety and security,” AFRICOM said. “The US conducted a self-defense strike to neutralize the threat, no enemy fighters were killed.”
AFRICOM described Shabaab as a group of “violent extremists” who “endanger the safety and stability of the Somali people.”
The US military has described airstrikes launched during other offensive operations against Shabaab targets such as training camps and IED factories as self-defense strikes and “defensive fires” missions. Last year, AFRICOM described nine such operations as defensive in nature. The Department of Defense has even justified airstrikes on Shabaab training camps, such as the one in Raso on March 5, 2016, as defensive operations. The last announcement of a self-defense strike in Somalia took place on Sept. 28, 2016, when combined forces raided a Shabaab IED factory near Galcayo and killed nine fighters.
The US military has been launching airstrikes and naval bombardments, as well as special operations raids against Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, since 2006. Many of these raids were in direct support of military operations, such as airstrikes and naval bombardments in 2007 that supported Ethiopia’s invasion to depose the Islamic Courts Union.
The Long War Journal has recorded 30 such operations against Shabaab or the Islamic Courts since 2006 (see list below). The number of US military operations in Somalia may well be higher, however, it has been difficult to track strikes against Shabaab as there are multiple actors involved in targeting the group, including Kenyan and Ethiopian sources.
The US military has not released statements for every encounter. Additionally, for a long period of time, Iranian news outlets muddied the waters by attributing every nearly every action against Shabaab in southern Somalia as a US drone strike. Verifiable press reporting has also been inconsistent.
AFRICOM has loosely defined targets such as IED facilities and training camps as “counterterrorism operations,” when in reality these are military operations since they are often launched against well-defended and well-defined targets in areas under direct Shabaab control. Like other al Qaeda branches, Shabaab controls a significant amount of territory and operates a military, intelligence and services, and governs areas it controls. AFRICOM planners are clearly aware of this, and, as the last two missions attest, air assets were on station to quickly strike Shabaab fighters.
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