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.