The United States has conducted an airstrike against al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia. This is the third such attack in less than two weeks following a previous suspension of airstrikes in support of Somali military forces. The Biden administration had suspended airstrikes in January stating it was going to review their legal and security framework. 

The airstrike on Sunday was in support of Somali government forces who were battling al-Shabaab fighters in the vicinity of Qeycad, in the central Galmudug state, according to a statement by the U.S. military. The two previous airstrikes conducted by the Biden administration on July 20 and July 23 were also in the Qeycad region. 

The Legality of the Airstrike Against Al-Shabaab

The Danab Brigade is critical in defeating al-Shabaab in Somalia.
A U.S. special operations soldier trains members of the Somali Danab Brigade. (U.S. Air Force)

While some Congressmen on both sides of the aisle have expressed concern with the resumption of airstrikes in support of our Somali allies — especially Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees — Pentagon spokeswoman Cindi King said the strikes have been in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter. 

The UN Charter’s Article 51 reads as follows:

“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

However, Senator Kaine stated on July 21, that “I remain concerned with the justification of ‘collective self-defense’ to respond with U.S. military force to protect foreign groups when there is no direct threat to the U.S., its armed forces, or citizens.”

“I look forward to getting more information from the administration about this specific drone strike, especially as we continue to work together to rebalance the Article I and Article II powers on use of force issues and update the 2001 AUMF to reflect current threats against the United States,” the senator added.

Nevertheless, under international law, the U.S. doesn’t need a self-defense justification if it is acting with the consent of the Somali government.

Pressure Builds on the Terrorist Group

During the previous airstrikes, it was reported that the U.S. troops were advising the Somali partner forces from a remote location. The Somali government reported that the strike on Sunday was conducted in the same area where federal and U.S.-trained forces were fighting the militants. No reports on casualties were released, however, both the U.S. and Somali governments stated that there we no civilian casualties.

Somalia’s Ministry of Information released a statement saying, “This is another major blow to al-Shabaab’s means to wage war against the Somali people.”

“The airstrikes destroyed a large al-Shabaab firing position engaging Danab and SNA (Somali National Army) forces as they approached,” the statement added.

General Townsend ment with Danab operators in Somalia.
AFRICOM commander General Stephen Townsend (center) meets with Somali members of the Danab Brigade on Friday. (Somali Military)

The media arm of al-Shabaab released a short statement saying only that the airstrikes and attacks had failed.

General Townsend Met With Danab Operators

The Danab is an elite brigade-size Somali unit, funded by the U.S., that is battling al-Shabaab terrorists in the Horn of Africa. The unit is critical in the fight against al-Shabaab. Its operators are trained by members of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Until the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia in the final days of the Trump administration, USSOCOM maintained a small but steady presence in Somalia with about 700 special operations troops operating out of the Baledogle Airfield, in Walaweyn District, Lower Shabelle Region.

The commander of U.S. Command Africa (AFRICOM), General Stephen Townsend made an unscheduled visit to the Danab Brigade on Friday. AFRICOM didn’t mention Townsend’s visit but it was reported on Twitter by Somali military officials.