US airstrikes in Somalia rose by 30% in 2022 as the Biden administration has escalated its involvement in the war against al-Shabaab, Military Times reported on Sunday.
According to data compiled by the Long War Journal, a project of the hawkish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies think tank, US Africa Command launched at least 15 airstrikes in Somalia in 2022, up from 11 airstrikes the previous year.
US airstrikes in Somalia initially dropped under President Biden, with many of the 2021 strikes being launched in January, during the final days of the Trump administration. According to the Long War Journal, AFRICOM launched 45 airstrikes in 2020 and 59 in 2019, which was a record high for US operations in Somalia.
But in 2022, Biden ordered the deployment of up to 500 troops in Somalia and stepped up airstrikes as the US-backed Mogadishu-based government began an offensive against al-Shabaab. There was heavy fighting on the ground during the final months of 2022, when many US airstrikes took place.
AFRICOM claimed it killed 107 al-Shabaab fighters in 2022 and didn’t report civilian deaths. But the Pentagon is known for undercounting civilian casualties, and its operations in Somalia are shrouded in secrecy as there is no Western media presence on the ground and the US-backed government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has strict rules for local journalists.
Al-Shabaab has also stepped up its attacks and claimed responsibility for a car bombing in Somalia’s central Hiraan region that killed 35 people last week. Mohamud’s government said on Saturday that al-Shabaab is open to negotiations, signaling there might be an attempt at diplomacy between the warring parties.
“Al-Shabab requested to open negotiations with the Somali government, but there are two groups within al-Shabab,” said Somali Deputy Defense Minister Abdifatah Kasim. “The first part is foreigners, and the second part is local Somalis. Those locals have a chance to open up negotiations, but those foreigners who invaded our country have no right for talks. The only option is to return to where they are from.”
Al-Shabaab is an al-Qaeda affiliate, but it’s widely believed that the group is not a global threat and does not have ambitions outside of Somalia. The group’s first recorded attack was in 2007, and it wasn’t until 2012 that al-Shabaab pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda after years of fighting the US and its proxies, including a US-backed Ethiopian invasion that was launched in 2006.