US cautiously optimistic about Somalia's anti-Al Shabab military campaign

US Africa Command general condemns Russia's Wagner Group activities on the continent

Security forces near the Hayat Hotel after an attack by Al Shabab fighters in Mogadishu in August, 2022. AFP
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The head of the US military's Africa Command, Gen Michael Langley, said he is “very cautiously optimistic” about Somalia's fight against Al Shabab militants.

Speaking after the international African Chiefs of Defence Conference on Thursday, Gen Langley expressed confidence in Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud's “whole of government approach” to addressing both the militant presence in Somalia, as well as persistent famine plaguing much of the population.

Al Shabab militants have been trying to overthrow Somalia's central government for almost 15 years.

Mr Mohamud has publicly stated that he prioritises economic reform, social and political reconciliation, and religious tolerance in the fight against international terrorism.

“I'm very cautiously optimistic on how they're progressing in their campaigning … but also the continuing action he does after that … which includes providing services to the public in the clans that are suffering, whether it's famine, or other type relief from either the nefarious activities of Al Shabab, or even for climate change,” Gen Langley said.

The UN says almost half of Somalia’s 17 million population face acute food insecurity, with 300,000 expected to experience famine this spring.

More than 900,000 of them live in areas under the control of the Al Qaeda-affiliated militant group, complicating aid access.

The US is one of several countries providing humanitarian aid, stabilisation efforts, economic development, and military assistance to the Somali government in their continuing campaign against the group.

Just last week, an AfricaCom strike near Galmudu, Somalia killed seven Al Shabab fighters.

Washington said the strike was “at the request of the Federal Government of Somalia and in support of Somali National Army engagements” against the militant group, and that the operation left no civilian causalities.

Last year, the US provided more than $2.5 billion in life-saving assistance to the Horn of Africa, with $1.3 billion of that going directly to Somalia.

The 2023 African Chiefs of Defence Conference brought together leaders from 43 African nations and 15 US National Guard units in Rome “to discuss resources and unique requirements affecting reality and reputation”.

Gen Langley also used the opportunity to condemn the "growing influence" of Russia's Wagner group across the African continent.

"They have destabilising effects in every country that they have set foot on," the four-star Marine Corps general said, highlighting their presence in Libya, the Central African Republic and Mali.

"And they want to expand their presence in other countries, as well."

Wagner has sent thousands of operatives to African and Middle East countries including Mali, Libya, Sudan, the Central African Republic and Syria.

Gen Langley emphasised UN reports of Wagner's "brutal tactics, the human rights abuses, including some allegations of unlawful or arbitrary killing of civilians", adding that "we've seen it happen in Libya and Central African Republic".

Last month, Washington stepped up pressure on its Middle East allies to expel the Wagner Group — a military contractor owned by an oligarch with close ties to Russia’s president — from Libya and Sudan.

Updated: March 02, 2023, 4:07 PM