US launches second air strike in a week on Al Shabab in Somalia

Attack was carried out by drone and there were no US forces on the ground

FILE PHOTO: A soldier holds a position as damage is assessed after Islamist group al Shabaab hit a European Union armoured convoy in Mogadishu, Somalia October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Feisal Omar/File Photo
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The US military conducted an air strike in Somalia on Friday against Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Shabab extremists, the second in four days after a six-month hiatus, the Pentagon said.

Africom, the US military command for Africa, “conducted an air strike against Al Shabab in the vicinity of Qeycad” in Galmudug province, 500 kilometres north of the capital Mogadishu, Pentagon spokeswoman Cindi King told AFP.

The strike was carried out by a drone and there were no US forces on the ground, Ms King said, and added that no further details could be provided.

The strike was the second carried out by the US military in Somalia in a week and only the second under US President Joe Biden.

On Tuesday, Africom attacked an Al Shabab post near Galkayo, north-west of Qeycad.

As soon as Mr Biden took office, he limited the use of drones against extremist groups outside US theatres of war.

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

Ms King noted “US forces are authorised to conduct strikes in support of combatant commander-designated partner forces under the 2001 AUMF” — the Authorisation for the Use of Military Force, whose authority US presidents have relied on to launch operations against armed Islamist groups.

Last month, the US House of Representatives voted to repeal a 2002 use-of-force measure that gave the US military the legal authority to invade Iraq and has since been used to justify military action against groups linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Supporters of repealing the 2002 AUMF argue it has long outlived its purpose and that Congress should reclaim its war-making powers.

No elected officials have indicated there is any immediate plan to reverse the 2001 measure.

Defence Department spokesman John Kirby said last week that Africom commander Gen Stephen Townsend has “the authority to act in defence of our forces and our Somali partners".

The recent strikes “underscore the threat that Al Shabab poses in Somalia and in certainly the Horn of Africa,” Mr Kirby said.

“That threat remains significant and we're going to continue to be vigilant about it.”

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

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

Updated: July 23, 2021, 10:48 PM