On Sunday, U.S. forces launched their third airstrike in Somalia within two weeks, targeting the Al Qaeda-linked Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab.
The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced the strike on Monday. The strike, which took place near the town of Qeycad, was carried out to assist Somali government partner forces.
Following the latest airstrike on Sunday, AFRICOM said, “The command’s 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,” AFRICOM added. “These efforts contrast with the indiscriminate attacks that al-Shabaab regularly conducts against the civilian population. The Federal Government of Somalia and the U.S. remain committed to fighting al-Shabaab to prevent the deaths of innocent men, women and children.”
Prior to the Qeycad strike, the U.S. launched strikes on July 23 and July 20, both of which targeted Al Shabaab militants. The July 20 strike was the first airstrike in Somalia since the start of President Joe Biden‘s administration.
“There were no U.S. forces accompanying Somali forces during this operation,” AFRICOM said of its latest strike. “U.S. forces were conducting a remote advise and assist mission in support of designated Somali partner forces. U.S. forces are authorized to conduct strikes in support of combatant commander-designated partner forces under the 2001 Authorization of Use for Military Force.”
Under President Donald Trump, U.S. forces have had broader authority to call in their own airstrikes in areas like Somalia. Under Biden, those rules have tightened and strike requests are now typically brought before the White House. In some cases, combatant commanders are allowed to call in airstrikes without needing prior authorization if the strikes are meant to help defend U.S. and partner forces that are under attack.
In the case of the July 20 airstrike, Pentagon spokeswoman Cindi King said prior White House approval was not needed in that case because the AFRICOM has the authority to conduct strikes in defense of allied forces.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Greg Anderson, U.S. Africa Command, director of operations said the July 23 airstrike was also conducted to deter an attack on allied forces. He said, “The engagement was conducted to support our Somali partners who were taking significant fire from Al Shabaab fighters.”
Trump did order the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Somalia in his final weeks in office. About 700 U.S. troops were in the country at the time Trump gave the order to withdraw. Since then, U.S. forces have continued to remotely assist Somali government forces fighting the Al Shabaab insurgency.
The Biden administration is currently conducting an interagency review, considering whether or not to reverse Trump’s withdrawal order and deploy U.S. troops back into Somalia, the New York Times reported.
One plan entails sending a smaller number of U.S. troops into Somalia than were previously stationed there. The plan would be to deploy those U.S. troops to military bases in southern Somalia, near the border with Kenya, an area considered to be an Al Shabaab stronghold.
While conducting so-called “over the horizon” operations from neighboring Kenya remains one possibility, strained Kenya-Somalia relations could disrupt cross-border missions. A recent diplomatic feud between Somalia and Kenya resulted in the countries cutting each other off from their airspace.