With three airstrikes since April 9, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has resumed its intense aerial military operations in Somalia. This is barely weeks after the publication of a report documenting both civilian deaths in airstrikes last year and attempts to cover them up. Four people have been killed in the strikes so far, conducted on April 9, 11 and 15. AFRICOM has claimed that no civilians were killed in these attacks. The latest strike, according to a press release by the AFRICOM, killed the deputy chief of the Islamic State in Somalia, Abdulhakim Dhuqub. The Islamic State in Somalia is a major ally of the al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabaab, in the country’s northeast. Independent sources are yet to confirm the veracity of these claims.
The Amnesty International report that came out in March 18 documented 14 deaths and injuries to another eight civilians in Somalia. It also indicated the number of casualties could be higher, and said the deaths were being covered up in a “shroud of secrecy.” US forces are in Somalia, providing military aid to the federal government in its fight against al-Shabaab
The report had far-reaching effects, renewing the long-standing controversy surrounding US airstrikes in foreign countries. This eventually prompted AFRICOM into admitting, on April 4 that one of its airstrikes a year ago had killed one civilian. The controversy caused AFRICOM to halt the planned escalation of its operations in southern Somalia. However, the latest strikes – which killed one person in Jilib in the Middle Juba region, on April 9, two in the Lower Shabelle region on April 11 and one person on April 15 – indicate that there has been no rethinking of its strategies in the region.
As of March 19, 28 airstrikes had been undertaken by the US forces. This is already close to the 35 and 47 strikes in 2017 and 2018 respectively. In total, the US Africa Command has conducted 110 airstrikes in Somalia.
Somalia has seen conflicts and civil wars since the 1980s. The fledgling Somali state, which could only take control of the capital, Mogadishu, and a majority of the nation’s territory by 2012, has been aided by neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, the Africa Union through the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and now AFRICOM. The current war in Somalia began with the collapse of the socialist government of Siad Barre in the early 1990s. The earliest predecessor of the al-Shabaab, al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (AIAI), founded in 1992, took advantage of the chaos of the state collapse and initiated a civil war, which eventually led to a complete breakdown of all state and government machinery in the country by mid-1990s. The al-Shabaab emerged as the largest splinter group after the breakdown of the Islamic Courts Union in 2006, established by the AIAI, coinciding with the formation of the transitional government taking control in the northern parts of the country. Ever since, the group has been in direct conflict with forces of the federal government, which is now housed in Mogadishu.
Nearly 25,000 US troops were deployed in Somalia in the early 90s as part of a UN force, a mission characterized by much mismanagement. It was scrapped within a few months.
While the AFRICOM has been present in the region and has also played a party in the war, supporting the transitional government, it intensified its operation in 2017 under president Donald Trump. The command’s enlarged and expanded role has been extremely controversial both in the US and elsewhere. Now as the al-Shabaab has been pushed into pockets of influence, and its allies are being neutralized, questions are being asked as to how long the United States plans to remain in Somalia, and whether the Somalis will be truly sovereign.