President Trump has signed off on a proposal which allows the U.S. Africa Command to launch its own offensive airstrikes against militants in Somalia.
The move extends authority to launch strikes down the chain of command to the regional military commander. In the Obama administration, authorization for such uses of force resided solely in the White House.
The order is described as expanding U.S. capacity and support to African Union allies in their ongoing fight against al Shabaab, the primary al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia. U.S. Special Operations forces in Somalia have always retained the right to defend themselves, as well as their Somali allies. This has resulted in occasional strikes, including a particularly massive one in March 2016 that reportedly killed around 150 militants.
As part of the authorization, southern Somalia is now designed an “active area of hostilities,” bringing it on par with Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and certain areas of Libya and Yemen. Airstrikes can also now be approved with “a reasonable certainty” of no civilian casualties on the target, rather than the previous “near certainty” precedent during the Obama administration.
General Thomas Waldhauser, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, has sought the expanded authority to execute offensive strikes before. “I think the combatant commanders, myself included, are more than capable of making judgments and determinations on some of these targets,” he said.
General Waldhauser made a point to distinguish that authorizations and attacks will not necessarily suddenly ramp up now that the approval process has been streamlined. “We are not going to turn Somalia into a free-fire zone,” he said.
Strikes will still be planned and approved in a joint manner with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security forces.
“Somali and AMISOM forces have already achieved significant success in recapturing territory from al Shabaab, and additional U.S. support will help them increase pressure on al Shabaab and reduce the risk to our partner forces when they conduct operations,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said. “The additional support provided by this authority will help deny al Shabaab safe havens from which it could attack U.S. citizens or U.S. interests in the region.”
Featured image courtesy of Reuters