US Escalating Secret War in Somalia
The Obama administration is quietly escalating the covert US-led war against al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia, deploying hundreds of Special Forces troops, launching air strikes and using mercenaries and allied African forces to combat the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group.
The New York Times reports the escalation has led to the largest American military presence in Somalia since US troops withdrew from the East African nation in the wake of the “Black Hawk Down” battle in 1993. The Somalia Campaign, as it is called by US, African and other international officials, is partly meant to avoid a repeat of the 1993 debacle, in which 18 US troops were killed battling local warlords during what was planned as a humanitarian mission to avert mass starvation in the impoverished, war-torn nation.
Although President Barack Obama has professed an aversion to deploying US “boots on the ground,” the Somalia Campaign is being called a model for future anti-terror wars that will in all likelihood continue long after Obama leaves office next January. The president has eschewed large-scale invasions in favor of deployments of smaller numbers of Special Forces troops backed by air strikes and working in concert with regional allies. He has also been criticized for repeatedly violating promises not to deploy US combat troops in Syria and Iraq. Since 2013, Obama has vowed at least 16 times that there would be no US “boots on the ground” in Syria, where hundreds of American Special Forces are currently on the ground engaged in the fight against Islamic State militants. US troops are also fighting alongside Iraqi forces in the battle to recapture Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from Islamic State, and in other campaigns in that war-ravaged nation.
While the Pentagon characterizes operations such as the Somalia Campaign as “self-defense strikes,” critics note that the targeting of al-Shabaab training camps and raids deep inside enemy territory are clearly offensive in nature, and that the very presence of US troops in Somalia creates a self-fulfilling prophecy as Islamist militants attack them. Critics also claim that United States African Command’s (AFRICOM) significant expansion in Africa is part of a wider strategic effort to gain greater control in the resource-rich continent and to thwart rivals including China and the former European imperialist powers that once controlled much of Africa during colonial times.
AFRICOM has conducted dozens of operations against al-Shabaab and other Islamist militants in Somalia over the past decade, with mixed results. While US forces have killed large numbers of militants, drone and other air strikes have also killed civilians and allied Somalian security forces. Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which has little control outside the capital city of Mogadishu, is weak and was only able to solidify what little power it has due to a brutal — but US-backed — Ethiopian invasion and an African Union military intervention.
The Somalian escalation marks the latest chapter of a wider US-led war waged ceaselessly since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. It is estimated that as many as 1.3 million people have died as a result of the US-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan alone.