US President Donald Trump has approved a Pentagon request to allow US special operations forces to accompany Somali troops and call in airstrikes against al-Shabaab without higher level approval.
US President Donald Trump has approved a Pentagon request to allow more aggressive airstrikes against suspected militants in Somalia, officials said Thursday.
Trump’s decision, which was made Wednesday but not immediately announced, allows US special operations forces to accompany Somali troops and other African allies as they move closer to the fight against al-Shabaab militants, enabling them to call in offensive airstrikes quicker.
Portions of southern Somalia, excluding the capital Mogadishu, will be considered a warzone, officials said.
That designation gives US forces on the ground the authority to call in offensive airstrikes, rather than waiting for approval by higher level commanders.
In a statement Thursday, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the additional US support will help “increase pressure on al-Shabaab and reduce the risk to our partner forces when they conduct operations.”
Somalia has been without a truly functioning government for two-and-a-half decades, its vast ungoverned spaces allowing extremist groups to gather and train.
Al-Shabaab has carried out deadly attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere. Attacks on military bases in the past two years have slowed joint African Union-Somali offensives against the group.
Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of US Africa Command, told members of Congress last week he wouldn’t turn Somalia into a “free fire zone.”
He stressed the need for “more flexibility, a little bit more timeliness, in terms of decision-making process” to strike al-Shabaab and weaken it.
He dismissed suggestions the change could cause more civilian casualties.
Somalia is grappling with a devastating famine that has uprooted citizens around the country.
The movement of so many people around the country in search of food and water could make civilian casualties more likely.
Last September a US airstrike killed at least 22 people falsely identified as al-Shabaab fighters, triggering Somali condemnation and demands for an investigation.