For the first time since President Joe Biden took office, on Tuesday the Pentagon conducted an airstrike in Somalia against al-Shabaab, a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda.
This was followed by another airstrike on Friday. These are the first of Biden’s tenure and the first strikes on Somalia since January 19, the day before President Trump left the White House.
Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia King confirmed the strikes and said, “There were no U.S. forces accompanying Somali forces during this operation. U.S. forces were conducting a remote advise and assist mission in support of designated Somali partner forces.”
A battle-damage assessment is still pending due to the ongoing engagement between al-Shabaab and Somali forces, however the command’s initial assessment is that no civilians were injured or killed as a result of this strike as the strike targeted known al-Shabaab fighters and took place in a remote area.
“This strike was conducted under collective self-defense authority and targeted al-Shabaab fighters engaged in active combat with our Somali partners,” said U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Thomas Savage, U.S. Africa Command deputy director of operations. “We are committed to supporting our Somali partners as they fight against these terrorists.”
“Collective self-defense”? What does that mean? That is one of many questions Mogadishu born, Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar asked in a letter to the Biden Administration.
“I know that your Administration is undergoing a review of the drone program, and I appreciate the seriousness with which you have approached the vexing legal, moral, and policy problem of the ongoing drone program,” Rep. Omar wrote. “Public reporting on Tuesday’s strike indicates that the White House has rejected requests for other drone strikes in Somalia since you took office, but that AFRICOM assesses the White House didn’t need to approve this strike because it was justified by “collective self-defense.”
Under the Trump Administration, airstrikes in Somalia increased dramatically with no apparent gains in either weakening Al-Shabaab, advancing Somali security and stability, or pursuing American interests in the region. On the contrary, the increase in strikes corresponded with an almost doubling of terrorist attacks on civilians committed by Al-Shabaab. It is critical that we realize we are not going to simply drone the Al-Shabaab problem to death, and that any kinetic action is part of a broader strategy focused first and foremost on the security of Somali people and the stability of the Somali state.
I request a prompt response to the following questions. I am happy to make myself available for a classified briefing if necessary.
- How does the Department of Defense define “collective self-defense” in the context of the July 20st strike?
- Does your Administration see this strike as authorized by the 2001 AUMF, Article II authorities, or some other legal authority?
- What about the July 20th strike exempted it from the restrictions you have placed on drone strikes more broadly since entering office? What distinguishes it from the other strikes for which the White House reportedly denied authorization?
- How does the July 20th strike fit into your broader Somalia strategy?
- Were there any American assets or interests being threatened on July 20th that necessitated this
- How does your Administration plan to better balance our diplomatic and development goals in
Somalia with the militarized counter-terrorism approach that was so overemphasized by the
- Why has the Department of Defense failed to make condolence payments to the families of
Somali civilians killed by American air strikes?
- Will you commit to providing such payments, as authorized and appropriated by Congress, to
Somali and other civilians killed by American air strikes going forward, including those that have yet to receive these payments in recent years?
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