Despite the United States withdrawing most of its troops from Somalia, the U.S. military continues supporting the Somali government and recently conducted two airstrikes against the al-Shabaab terrorist network.

Two airstrikes conducted during the early hours of New Year’s Day killed three members of the terrorist group and destroyed half a dozen buildings used by the militants. The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) stated that the airstrikes were conducted in coordination with the Somali government and targeted al-Shabaab compounds near the town of Qunyo Barrow. AFRICOM released a video of the strikes.

“Current assessments indicate the strikes killed three al-Shabab members, [wounded one], destroyed six, and damaged one al-Shabab compound buildings,” AFRICOM’s statement read. AFRICOM stated that no civilians were killed or injured in the strikes according to its initial assessment.

“This action clearly demonstrates our continuing commitment to Somalia and our regional partners,” Army Maj. Gen. Joel Tyler, AFRICOM’s Director of Operations, said in the statement.

Last year, the U.S. had carried out over 50 airstrikes against al-Shabaab.

“We retain the means and the will to strike the al-Shabaab terrorist network when necessary to protect the region and ultimately, our own nation,” Tyler added.

The U.S. has frequently stated that al-Shabaab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, represents a clear and present danger to the United States, as it can strike within the United States. 

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley, speaking at a virtual event in December, had said that, “left unattended, al-Shabaab could conduct operations against not only U.S. interests in the region but also against the [U.S.] homeland.”

Air Force Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, the Commander of Joint Task Force Quartz and Special Operations Command Africa, added in AFRICOM’s statement that, “Our strikes help keep these terrorists off balance to help our partners then address deeper problems such as governance and development.”

Despite the U.S. withdrawing the majority of its troops from Somalia under orders from President Trump, these strikes are a clear signal to al-Shabaab and other malign actors in the region that the United States is not abandoning its partners. 

The withdrawal of American troops from Somalia is expected to be complete before January 20, the date when the presidential administration will change.

Nevertheless, the majority of troops will remain in east Africa where AFRICOM can rapidly mobilize them in and out of Somalia, or other hotspots in the region, as needed. Most of the troops are expected to be relocated to the U.S. drone base in Djibouti. The base preserves AFRICOM’s ability to launch drone strikes against al-Shabaab.

Since 2015, al-Shabaab has been forced from Somalia’s major cities and has been operating mostly from rural areas. The terrorist group still controls large swaths of rural Somalia.

However, it still conducts terrorist bombings in major urban centers, such as the October 2017 and December 2019 Mogadishu bombings.

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Back in late November, a DoD Inspector General report stated that AFRICOM believes al-Shabaab to be the most “dangerous, capable, and imminent threat” on the continent.

On January 2, in Mogadishu, a suicide bombing, for which al-Shabaab claimed responsibility, killed five people, including two Turks, and wounded 14. The terrorist group has frequently attacked Turkish military and civilian targets.

“We strongly condemn this heinous attack targeting the employees of a Turkish company that undertook the Mogadishu-Afgoye road construction and contributes to the development and prosperity of Somalia,” a Turkish foreign ministry statement said in response to the attack.