The Trump administration would consider deploying additional U.S. troops to Somalia should the troubled African nation request greater military aid to combat al-Qaida loyalists there, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis indicated Thursday.
“That’s a decision we’ll take if it’s broached to us, and we’ll decide yes or no,” Mattis told reporters after attending a London security conference focused on the Somali government’s relentless struggle with the extremist group al-Shabaab.
No such request has been made by the Somali government and it was not discussed in London, Mattis said. But his openness to entertaining such a possibility highlights the Pentagon’s evolving perspective on how aggressively it should support indigenous forces willing to fight mutual adversaries.
U.S. military officials won’t say precisely how many troops are in Somalia now, though the number is believed to be a few hundred at most.
The Pentagon’s strategy there, as with other regions where a lack of governance has allowed terror groups to take root, centers on training and advising — or “working by, with and through our allies,” as officials now routinely characterize it. That includes dozens of soldiers from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division who arrived in early April to help the Somali army improve its logistical capabilities.
That strategy also entails direct counter-terror assistance, a more-dangerous mission led by elite special operations forces. On May 5 it resulted in the first American combat death in Somalia since the early 1990s.
Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, 38, was killed and two other U.S. commandos were wounded during a clash with al-Shabaab fighters about 40 miles west of the capital, Mogadishu. U.S. officials have offered few details about the incident, though it appears the intended targets included at least some of the group’s leadership as well as a radio station used to broadcast propaganda.
U.S. commanders also have new leeway, granted by the White House in recent weeks, to conduct precision airstrikes against al-Shabaab fighters.
“The way we have had the most involvement to date,” Mattis said Thursday, “has been the support, both equipment and training support of [African peacekeeping] forces. … That’s intel sharing, training, obviously strikes if the conditions are met, that sort of thing. That’s where we’ve been and you’ll see that continue.”
He characterized the peacekeepers’ role as “buying time” for the Somali government to assemble its security forces. Much of that effort is concentrated in neighboring Djibouti, where the U.S. routinely conducts military training for a host of partner nations battling extremists throughout the region.
In London on Thursday, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed asked international leaders to end the arms embargo blocking his security forces, which mostly use Russian-made AK47s, from acquiring more-advanced weaponry. Mattis, who met privately with Mohamed, signaled a willingness to provide at least basic combat gear.
“We’ll probably also do the continued equipping of the Somali army as they stand it up,” he said. “In other words, not just to the [African peacekeeping] force, but continue to provide the basic kit that light infantry needs to go into the field.
“I honestly don’t know how what the specifics are,” he added. “I know we’re going to provide a kit to them.”
Andrew deGrandpre is Military Times’ senior editor and Pentagon bureau chief. On Twitter: @adegrandpre.
Diplomatic leaks: UAE dissatisfied with Saudi policies
AL JAZEERA — Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) is working on breaking up Saudi Arabia, leaked documents obtained by Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar revealed.
Al Akhbar said that the leaked documents contained secret diplomatic briefings sent by UAE and Jordanian ambassadors in Beirut to their respective governments.
One of the documents, issued on September 20, 2017, disclosed the outcome of a meeting between Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon Nabil Masarwa and his Kuwaiti counterpart Abdel-Al al-Qenaie.
“The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is working on breaking up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Jordanian envoy quoted the Kuwait ambassador as saying.
A second document, issued on September 28, 2017, reveals meeting minutes between the Jordanian ambassador and his UAE counterpart Hamad bin Saeed al-Shamsi.
The document said the Jordanian ambassador informed his government that UAE believes that “Saudi policies are failing both domestically and abroad, especially in Lebanon”.
“The UAE is dissatisfied with Saudi policies,” the Jordanian envoy said.
The Qatar vote
According to the leaks, UAE ambassador claims that Lebanon voted for Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in his bid to become head of UNESCO in October 2017.
“[Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri knew Lebanon was voting for Qatar,” the UAE ambassador said in a cable sent to his government on October 18, 2017.
In November last year, Hariri announced his shock resignation from the Saudi capital Riyadh.
He later deferred his decision, blaming Iran and its Lebanese ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, for his initial resignation. He also said he feared an assassination attempt.
Officials in Lebanon alleged that Hariri was held hostage by Saudi authorities, an allegation Hariri denied in his first public statement following his resignation speech.
Somalia’s Puntland region asks UAE to stay as Gulf split deepens
BOSASO, Somalia (Reuters) – Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region urged the United Arab Emirates not to close its security operations in the country after a dispute with the central government, saying the Gulf power was a key ally in the fight against Islamist militants.
The dispute goes to the heart of an increasingly troubled relationship between Gulf states – divided by their own disputes – and fractured Somalia, whose coastline sits close to key shipping routes and across the water from Yemen.
Analysts have said the complex standoff risks exacerbating an already explosive security situation on both sides of the Gulf of Aden, where militant groups launch regular attacks.
The central Somali government said on Wednesday it was taking over a military training program run by the UAE.
Days later the UAE announced it was pulling out, accusing Mogadishu of seizing millions of dollars from a plane, money it said was meant to pay soldiers.
“We ask our UAE friends, not only to stay, but to redouble their efforts in helping Somalia stand on its feet,” said the office of the president of Puntland, a territory that sits on the tip of the Horn of Africa looking out over the Gulf of Aden.
Ending UAE support, “will only help our enemy, particularly Al Shabaab and ISIS (Islamic State),” it added late on Monday.
Watch this presser. pic.twitter.com/wEH19WsG7t
— Abdisalam Aato (@AbdisalamAato) April 16, 2018
The UAE is one of a number of Gulf powers that have opened bases along the coast of the Horn of Africa and promised investment and donations as they compete for influence in the insecure but strategically important region.
That competition has been exacerbated by a diplomatic rift between Qatar and a bloc including the UAE. In turn, those splits have worsened divisions in Somalia.
Puntland, which has said it wants independence, has sought to woo the UAE which runs an anti-piracy training center there and is developing the main port. The central government in Mogadishu last year criticized Puntland for taking sides in the Gulf dispute. Qatar’s ally Turkey is one of Somalia’s biggest investors.
One Somali government official said last week Mogadishu had decided to take over the UAE operation because the Gulf state’s contract to run it had expired. Another official said the government was investigating the money taken from the plane.
The competition among Gulf states in Somalia has fueled accusations of foreign interference and resentment in many corners of Somali society.
The loss of the UAE program could have a destabilizing effect, said one security analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The value of the UAE trained forces was two-fold – they were relatively well trained but, most importantly, they were paid on time,” unlike other parts of the security forces, the analyst told Reuters.
Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991.