A report from The New York Times says the US is seeking the authority to carry out drone strikes in Kenya to attack members of al-Shabab, a militant group the US has been heavily bombing in neighboring Somalia. The drone war against al-Shabab in Somalia has dramatically increased under President Trump, who loosened the rules of engagement for the campaign in 2017.
The report, which cites four anonymous sources, says the new authorities are awaiting the approval of President Trump and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. The desire for this new authority stems from a January al-Shabab attack on Camp Simba, a military base in Manda Bay, Kenya, that houses US and Kenyan forces. The January ambush killed three Americans.
The Times sources say the new authorities are not only for self-defense but also would allow offensive strikes to stop a suspected threat. The authority would have some limitations. For instance, the US would need permission from the Kenya’s government to carry out drone strikes, which is not the case in Somalia.
US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has conducted a record number of drone strikes against al-Shabab in Somalia under President Trump. In 2019, the US conducted 63 airstrikes in Somalia, the most in a single year. The first seven months of 2020 saw more US airstrikes in Somalia than were conducted during both the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, combined.
The war in Somalia is so underreported that it is tough to know how damaging it has been to the civilians on the ground. AFRICOM usually claims its airstrikes only kill militants and only occasionally have to admit to civilian deaths if there is enough outcry.