STUTTGART, Germany — U.S. forces targeted a mass of Islamic militants in Somalia on Tuesday in a self-defense airstrike that marks the second American attack in less than a week in the war-torn country.
U.S. Africa Command offered few details about the latest strike in the country where the military has stepped up operations, but did say the attack was about 300 miles southwest of the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
“This strike was conducted within the parameters of our authority to engage in collective self-defense of our Somali partners,” AFRICOM said Wednesday in a prepared statement.
AFRICOM said it was still assessing the results of the attack and did not provide an estimate of how many militants were killed.
During the past year, AFRICOM has intensified operations against al-Shabab, a group that has resisted defeat despite the efforts of a wide-ranging international coalition of forces.
In March, President Donald Trump granted Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who leads AFRICOM, expanded authorities to launch offensive airstrikes against the terrorist group.
While those authorities haven’t altered what military officials deem actionable intelligence on the battlefield, the expanded powers enable commanders to make decisions faster, AFRICOM officials have said.
On Sunday, U.S. forces also hit al-Shabab targets in a strike that was the second such attack under authorities granted by Trump. On June 11, AFRICOM also killed eight militants when it attacked a command outpost in Somalia’s south, the military said.
“We continue to work in coordination with our Somali partners and allies to systematically dismantle al-Shabab, and help achieve stability and security throughout the region,” AFRICOM said after Tuesday’s strike.
Al-Shabab, which has operated for more than a decade in Somalia, has proven to be resilient in the face of international efforts to topple it.
Several years ago, the group was on the brink of overrunning Mogadishu, but efforts by a union of African militaries helped push the group out of its strongholds.
During the past year, al-Shabab has regrouped and picked up the pace of its operations.
For the United States, military efforts are expanding in Somalia, with trainers operating in the background and on the front lines with Somalia forces in hopes of building up the country’s military institutions.
The effort to build a creditable Somali military could be a challenge in the clan-based country that has no history of possessing a strong central government.
Kansas bomb plot trial drawing to a close as testimony ends
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The trial of three men accused of plotting to bomb an apartment complex housing Somali refugees in western Kansas is drawing to a close after weeks of testimony.
All sides have rested in the federal case against Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen on charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights. Wright also faces a charge of lying to the FBI. The judge dismissed two weapons-related charges against Stein.
U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren plans a hearing on Monday to hash out the final jury instructions. Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday. The jury trial began March 20.
The three men were indicted in October 2016 on charges they planned set off bombs the day after the Presidential election.
In Somalia, Al Shabab Is Stronger Now Than in Years
During the morning of April 1, 2018, a car drove up to an Ugandan army base in Bulamarer, Somalia, and blew up — the beginning of an Al Shabaab attack that, in combination with another suicide attack on a convoy of reinforcements, left at least 46 Ugandan soldiers dead.
The radical Islamist group has carried out many such attacks in recent months, which has put increased pressure on the Somali government and the African Union peacekeeping mission, AMISOM, which numbers some 22,000 troops from Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Burundi. In February, at least 18 people died in Mogadishu, the capital, in twin car bombings.
A recent analysis by Christopher Anzalone, a Ph.D. candidate of Islamic Studies at McGill University, concludes that the militant and terror group is possibly — now — in one of its strongest positions in years given its increasing willingness to launch bolder attacks while penetrating into Mogadishu with bombings and assassinations. Anzalone’s article is available at CTC Sentinel, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point’s monthly journal.
Al Shabab also has a cohesive and adaptable organization with dedicated military, governing and intelligence structures capable of rooting out spies, launching company-sized infantry operations and governing its limited territory.
U.S. air strikes — numbering more than 40 since 2016 — and commando raids, while successful in killing Al Shabab militants, may have also increased opposition to the Somali government, the U.S. military and the African Union in a country marked by local divisions characterized by tribal loyalties.
Case in point, in August 2017, a firefight between a joint U.S.-Somali force and Al Shabab reportedly resulted in the deaths of 10 civilians including children during a raid in Bariire. The U.S. military denied it killed any civilians in the raid. The Daily Beast later reported that U.S. commandos fired on unarmed civilians, and placed weapons seized during the raid next to the bodies of slain civilians before photographing them.
“Different parts of the government’s security forces … rely on the control of lucrative checkpoints and the fees and bribes they can charge civilians,” Anzalone writes, “and they have engaged in gun battles over these checkpoints and regular protests decrying the government’s failure to pay them.”
Somalia lacks a true national army, which is more akin to a coalition of local tribal forces. The Somali government’s own pronouncements of Al Shabab’s failings cannot be taken at face value, according to Tricia Bacon writing separately for War on the Rocks. “There are questions about the reported surge in defections, with well-connected sources privately telling me that the Somali security services are hyping this trend to stoke dissension within Al Shabab,” Bacon writes.
U.S. air strikes and ground raids have not, at the least, stopped Al Shabaab.
“While airstrikes have taken a significant toll on al-Shabaab, including the targeted killings of senior leaders and administrators,” Anzalone adds, “and despite claims made in late January by a senior African Union official that drone attacks were ‘wiping out Al Shabab in good numbers’ the insurgents continued throughout 2017 to be able to assemble large forces of fighters and launch major attacks on AMISOM and Somali government bases.”
Fortunately, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Somalia, primarily base in Puntland, is small and appears disorganized compared to Al Shabab — which emerged out of the Islamic Courts Union and which controlled Mogadishu for a brief period in 2006.
To defeat both groups, however, the Somali government will need to substantially improve its own armed forces — marred as they are with corruption — along with the political and economic relationship with the country’s states.
Shabab says it killed Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia
NYTIMES — NAIROBI, Kenya — Islamist militants in Somalia carried out multiple coordinated attacks against African Union peacekeeping forces on Sunday, and claimed to have killed at least 59 Ugandan soldiers.
Ceaser Olweny, a spokesman for the Ugandan peacekeepers, said four soldiers had been killed, and six wounded.
The Shabab, a Somali terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, made the attacks on three military bases and two Somali government outposts in the Lower Shabelle region, a Shabab stronghold near Mogadishu, the country’s capital.
Mr. Olweny said the attacks were coordinated.
Somali officials confirmed the attacks to the local news media.
“The number of casualties, and whether or not the dead were combatants, is used by all sides for propaganda and political objectives,” Abukar Arman, an analyst and former Somalia special envoy to the United States, said from Columbus, Ohio.
The attacks began on Sunday morning when two car bombs exploded outside the African Union base in the town of Bulo Mareer, 100 miles southwest of Mogadishu, according to Abdifatah Haji Abdulle, the deputy commissioner of Lower Shabelle.
The car bombs destroyed one African Union vehicle and one Somali government vehicle, according to Maj. Farah Osman of the Somali Army, who is stationed near the base.
“Then a large number of Al Shabab fighters began firing from under the trees,” Mr. Osman told Reuters. “It was a hellish battle.”
The Shabab claimed to have killed dozens of peacekeepers in the hourslong firefight, but the group is known to exaggerate such figures.
Mr. Olweny said soldiers in the African Union peacekeeping mission, known as Amisom, had killed 30 Shabab militants during the attacks. The Shabab said only 14 of its members had died.
Amisom has steadily pushed the Shabab out of major towns, but the group controls large sections of rural territory. It frequently targets Amisom bases and Somali government institutions — attacks that have intensified recently, even as American strikes against the group have increased.
The United States Africa Command, which cooperates with Somalia’s national military and security agencies, carried out nearly three dozen drone strikes against the Shabab last year.
The Amisom peacekeeping force was first deployed in Somalia in 2007. More than 20,000 soldiers and police officers from six countries serve in the mission, including more than 6,000 from Uganda.
The African Union plans to gradually withdraw its troops from the country and to hand over security operations to the Somali Army by 2020.
Hussein Mohamed contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.