US launches air strike on Al Shabab in Somalia

First American drone strike in the country since January 19

The US military conducted an air strike against Al Qaeda affiliated Al Shabab militants on Tuesday, the first since President Joe Biden took office, the Pentagon said.

The US military command for Africa (Africom), in co-ordination with the Somali government, “conducted one air strike in the vicinity of Galkayo, Somalia, today against Al Shabab,” Pentagon spokeswoman Cindi King told AFP.

The strike took place 700 kilometres north-east of Mogadishu, Ms King said.

“A battle-damage assessment is still pending due to the ongoing engagement between Al Shabab and Somali forces, however the command's initial assessment is that no civilians were injured or killed as a result of this strike,” she added.

The strike is the first conducted by the US military in Somalia since January 19, when Africom announced it had killed three Al Shabab militants in two strikes in Jamaame and Deb Scinnele.

Mr Biden was inaugurated the next day.

As soon as he arrived at the White House, he limited the use of drones against militant groups outside US theatres of war.

This reversed the policy of his predecessor Donald Trump, who had given the US military carte blanche in countries such as Somalia and Libya.

In March, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that any planned strikes against militant groups outside of Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq were now submitted to the White House before being carried out.

Politico reported on Wednesday that Mr Biden had not authorised the strike and that Africom chief Gen Stephen Townsend did so with the support of the Somali government, without running it by the White House.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cindi King told Politico that there was an "imminent threat" and the strike was permitted under Article 51 of the UN Charter.

Drone strikes in Somalia multiplied during Mr Trump's term in office, from 11 in 2015 to 64 in 2019, and 54 in 2020, said non-governmental group Airwars, which monitors civilian deaths in bombings around the world.

Before he left office, Mr Trump ordered the withdrawal of some 700 special forces soldiers stationed in Somalia to train and advise the Somali Army.

Updated: July 21st 2021, 9:20 PM