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.