Citing anonymous officials, The New York Times reported on Wednesday that a veteran CIA officer was killed in combat in Somalia. Details of the death are scant, and the officer was not identified.
The news of the death comes while President Trump is reportedly considering withdrawing virtually all US troops from Somalia. There are an estimated 700 US troops in the country. All or most of the soldiers were sent there by the Trump administration.
Most US troops in Somalia are special forces there to train the local army. The US is fighting the militant group al-Shabab, a war mostly waged by drones and covert raids. According to the Times, the CIA officer that died was a member of the agency’s paramilitary unit.
If the Trump administration does go through with a withdrawal, it will not affect bases in neighboring Djibouti and Kenya, which is where the drones that carry out airstrikes in Somalia are based. According to the administration’s plans, if the troops are brought home, the US would still be carrying out operations against al-Shabab.
President Trump dramatically escalated the war against al-Shabab, dropping more bombs on Somalia in the first seven months of 2020 than during the entire administrations of George W Bush and Barack Obama combined.
According to the Times, some intelligence officers inside the CIA believe al-Shabab is only a threat to US interests in Africa but not outside the region. Others believe if the group is not dealt with, they can be a global threat.
Due to their al-Qaeda affiliation and size, al-Shabab is presented as the preeminent threat to the US homeland as a way to justify US intervention in Somalia. When reports first emerged that Trump was considering pulling troops out of the country, a spokesman from US Africa Command warned against the plan and said al-Shabab “presents a future threat to America.”
But like many groups the US is fighting in the Middle East and North Africa, al-Shabab was born out of resisting a US-backed invasion and occupation. In 2006, the US-backed an Ethiopian invasion to oust the Islamic Courts Union, a Muslim coalition that took control of Mogadishu from a group of warlords.
The first recorded attack that al-Shabab claimed responsibility for was a car bombing in 2007 that targeted Ethiopian soldiers who were occupying Mogadishu. It wasn’t until 2012, after years of fighting the US and its proxies, that al-Shabab pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda.