On Thursday, the US launched airstrikes in Somalia against al-Shabab, less than a week after the Pentagon announced President Trump ordered the “majority” of US troops to be pulled out of the African country.
The US military claims the airstrikes killed eight al-Shabab fighters and wounded two more. The airstrikes hit targets near the town of Jilib, about 207 miles southwest of Mogadishu.
“We will continue to apply pressure to the al-Shabab network. They continue to undermine Somali security, and need to be contained and degraded,” said Gen. Stephen Townsend, the head of US Africa Command (AFRICOM). Playing down the troop withdrawal, Townsend said, “We’re repositioning, but we will maintain the ability to strike this enemy.”
US troops leaving Somalia are expected to be stationed in neighboring Djibouti and Kenya, where US drones that carry out airstrikes in Somalia are based. There are currently about 700 US troops in Somalia. Most were sent to the country by President Trump.
The Trump administration also significantly escalated the air war against al-Shabab, carrying out more airstrikes in Somalia than the administrations of Barack Obama and George W. Bush combined.
AFRICOM likes to hype al-Shabab as a global threat to justify continued intervention in the country, mostly due to the group’s al-Qaeda affiliation. But there are no indications that al-Shabab would be capable of attacking the US homeland or that they would have pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda in the first place if not for years of US intervention in Somalia.
In 2006, the US backed an Ethiopian invasion to oust the Islamic Courts Union, a Muslim coalition that controlled Mogadishu at the time. The first recorded attack that al-Shabab claimed responsibility for was in 2007 when the group targeted Ethiopian soldiers occupying Mogadishu. It wasn’t until 2012, after years of fighting the US and its proxies, that al-Shabab pledged its loyalty to al-Qaeda.