Kismayo, Somalia – U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) confirmed on Monday that elements of its command participated in a joint counter-terrorism operation against an al-Qaeda linked terrorist group known as Harakat al-Shabaab. The operation, which was executed on January 7th, included an unknown number of U.S. military advisors which accompanied Somali National Army troops along with Ugandan commandos assigned to the United Nations peacekeeping mission, the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM.
The raid occurred in and around the villages of Bula-Gaduud near the southern Somalia port city of Kismayo. The area in and around Kismayo is historically been known as a ‘hotbed’ of al-Shabaab activity with the terror group recently retaking majority control over the towns and villages within the region. The joint raid was described as a ‘counter-terrorism operation’ with the intent of ‘disturbing’ al-Shabaab’s influence within the region and staunching the group’s recent uptick in terror attacks Somalia has seen in recent months.
AFRICOM’s public affairs office released a statement confirming the raid had in fact occurred and that U.S. advisors were present during the raid and called in U.S. warplanes to conduct several airstrikes on suspected al-Shabaab camps 30 kilometers north of Kismayo. AFRICOM labeled these U.S. close air support missions as “self-defense strikes” due to the U.S. advisors on the ground declaring that their safety was being threatened by al-Shabaab fighters massing in what the advisors assumed was a sizable counter attack force. AFRICOM’s press release provided the justification of the strikes by stating: “During a counter-terrorism operation to disrupt al-Shabaab, the combined partner forces observed al-Shabaab fighters threatening their safety and security. The U.S. conducted a self-defense strike to neutralize the threat, no enemy fighters were killed.” Yet the question remains, who are the Americans?
Due to my time as a Green Beret, when I hear the phrase “U.S. Advisor” in regards to military operations in a country, I immediately assume that these advisors are special operations; which drives me to assume that the Somali and African Union AMISOM forces were also special operations. Somalia’s counter-terrorism special operations unit the Gashaan was reported by SOFREP to have been trained by U.S. Special Operations forces and have been known to accompany Gashaan forces as advisors on raids against al-Shabaab in the past. The Gashaan which falls under the command of Somalia’s CIA-trained National Intelligence & Security Agency(NISA) and is known to have several forward operating bases in the southern region of Somalia. The Ugandan People’s Defense Force(UPDF) southern Somalia contingent which supplies the majority of the African Union troop numbers to the AMISOM mission is also stationed in the south in the city of Barawe with forward operating bases just outside the port city limits of Kismayo.
The UPDF also has a U.S. trained and advised commando unit within Somalia as well. Only these commandos were trained by a private security company known as Bancroft Global Development. Bancroft who’s ranks are filled with former U.S. and European special operators were hired by the Ugandan government to train its troops assigned to AMISOM in the development and training of UPDF special forces commandos in counterinsurgency operations against al-Shabaab and other extremist groups. AMISOM itself pays for Bancroft’s services through the European Union’s $640 million dollar aid package to the African Union-led United Nations peacekeeping mission in East Africa. AMISOM then submits an invoice to the U.S. State Department for reimbursement for the private security company’s services. It is rumored that Bancroft advisors have gone along on AMISOM raids in the past in a command and control advisory role, coaching Ugandan commanders on the ground during operations targeting al-Shabaab.
Both AMISOM and NISA have yet to confirm if any of their special operations units were involved in this recent raid and it is highly doubtful that AFRICOM or Bancroft Global for that matter will confirm whether or not U.S. Special Operations or private security contractors were also present. However, the moniker ‘self-defense strikes’ being conducted ring true to the rules of engagement for U.S. Green Berets or Special Operations forces in an advisory capacity as these advisors are authorized to call in an air strike or further U.S. military intervention if they feel their safety is “threatened.” Bancroft contractors could in essence also be afforded the same protections from harm by way of U.S. airstrikes with the loophole that they are in fact working for the Ugandan military and AMISOM itself and therefore technically are a part of the African Union coalition mission in Somalia. Bancroft contractors calling in the defensive strike however feels like a stretch due to U.S. African Command confirming the use of U.S. warplanes in regards to protecting the safety of U.S. advisors accompanying a joint AMISOM raid.
Feature image: Twitter