What You Need to Know:
Over the weekend and at the behest of the Somalian Government, the United States conducted airstrikes against al-Shabaab militants, killing three.
There were no reported civilian casualties.
The US Africa Command termed “collective self-defense airstrikes” targeted an isolated area located around 20 miles from Kismayo, in Somalia’s lower Juba Province.
This weekend’s strikes were the first of the new year, with 18 such strikes occurring in 2023, and 262 occurring since 2007.
A January 2007 drone strike by US forces on eight al-Qaeda militants suspected of orchestrating the Kenyan and Tanzanian Embassy bombings marked the first airstrike casualties of the US’s counterinsurgency operation in the country.
Since then, it is debated how many strikes have occurred, as some are not announced to the public due to the sensitive nature of the operation. Furthermore, statistics from American think-tank New America claim 322 strikes have been conducted, while the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies claims around 262 strikes have occurred.
Irrespective of the number of strikes, the US has a long record of accidentally killing civilians in these strikes as well. Following an Amnesty International investigation of nine airstrikes conducted since 2017, the NGO has claimed at least 21 civilians have been killed with 11 more injured.
After conducting its own report, AFRICOM closed its investigation of 20 incidents, leaving seven under review and accepting its role in the deaths of four civilians.
Who Are al-Shabaab?:
Initially, al-Shabaab, meaning ‘the youth’ in Arabic, came to fruition as the military wing of the Islamic Courts Union, which was formed in June 2004.
The ICU attempted to rule Somalia under Sharia Law, but was ousted from power by an Ethiopian invading force in December 2006.
Estimated to have around 7,000-10,000 members, the group attacks military forces from the United States, Somalia and elsewhere. Furthermore, the al-shabaab is known to utilize IEDs and VIBEDs to target Somali, Kenyan and Ugandan civilians.
Notably, in 2015, al-Shabaab Militants equipped with small arms, attacked Kenya’s Garissa University killing 148.
al-Shabaab remained active and utilized print media telecommunications to gain support and funding. This resulted in the group being designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US Department of State in February 2008.
Furthermore, in February 2012, al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri announced that al-Shabaab had formally pledged allegiance to the Salafi militant group.
So, What Now?:
Somalia officially joined the East African Community (EAC) in 2023, marking a step forward in the nation’s goal of stabilization. However, due to al-shabaab’s multinational reach and access to large amounts of funds, the group still poses a huge risk to the national security of Somalia and East Africa.