For an administration that was supposed to eliminate "foreign US entanglements" and bring America's troops home, the offshore combat deaths sure are piling up fast.
A U.S. Navy SEAL was killed on Thursday while fighting an al Qaeda-affiliated militant group in Somalia, the Pentagon said on Friday, marking the first U.S. combat death in the country since 1993 and the fourth U.S. service member to be killed within the past week with the casualties spread out over three warzones. Two other service members were wounded in a firefight with al-Shabaab militants near the capital, Mogadishu, on Thursday, military officials said.
The last time a US soldier died in Somalia was in 1993, when 18 U.S. service members were killed in what became known as the battle of Mogadishu, later memorialized in the film “Black Hawk Down.”
The mission was targeting a compound of al Shabaab militants that “has been associated with some attacks on facilities that we use and that our Somali partners use nearby.”
“U.S. forces were conducting an advise and assist mission alongside members of the Somali National Army,” according to a statement from the U.S. Africa Command, which oversees American personnel on the continent. Thursday’s firefight took place near Barli, Somalia, 40 miles west of Mogadishu. “The entire team was able to return fire and suppress the militants."
According to Navy Capt. Jeff Davis during an advise-and-assist mission led by the Somali National Army, U.S. Special Operations troops unexpectedly came under fire; the U.S. then forces used their aircraft to bring the Somali forces to the compound near Barii, about 40 miles west of the capital of Mogadishu. The U.S. troops “were there maintaining a distance back as they conducted the operation and that’s when our forces came under fire. We had the unfortunate casualty.”
The attack which wounded several U.S. troops took place “in the early phase in the mission, they were on the ground,” Davis said and added that the al Shabaab attackers were “quickly neutralized,” but would not say whether the mission was a success.
“The mission I will leave to the Somalis to characterize in terms of what the operational objectives achieved were but it was designed to target this compound,” Davis said.
As the WSJ writes, in late March, a change in policy by President Donald Trump allowed the military to step up its fight against al-Shabaab, declaring Somalia an area of active hostilities. Trump has given military commanders more leewayworld-wide in fights against Islamic State and other militant organizations.
Al-Shabaab has been ramping up small-scale attacks using mostly improvised explosive devices in recent months, especially since February when the country elected its new president. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known widely by his nickname “Farmajo,” declared war on al-Shabaab in April, in a symbolic gesture diplomats interpreted as a relaunch of efforts to defeat the group.
But without a fully developed and trained national army, the task continues to prove elusive. The Somali National Army is an often haphazard group that lacks consistent training and is badly, if at all, paid. The U.S. and other donors have long tried to train parts of the army, and the U.K. and the European Union run stipend projects that top-up army salaries provided the Somali state pays the core salary.
In recent weeks al-Shabaab has been trying to promote a more charitable image on its social-media channels. A looming famine affecting millions in Somalia is drawing the attention of humanitarian organizations ramping up efforts to feed people across the country. In al-Shabaab held areas, the group claims it is running food-assistance programs while blocking access to Western humanitarian organizations like the United Nations food agency, the World Food Program.
Meanwhile, in a statement on the casualty, U.S. Africa Command said it continues “to support our Somali and regional partners to systematically dismantle this al Qaeda affiliate, and help them to achieve stability and security throughout the region as part of the global counterterrorism effort.”
As noted earlier, this was the fourth U.S. service member to be killed within the past week; a soldier died on Saturday following an explosion outside of Mosul in northern Iraq, and two Army Rangers were killed early last Friday morning during a raid on ISIS militants in Afghanistan.