New York — The head of the United States Africa Command (Africom) has indicated that Pentagon will not step up the US combat role in Somalia.
Marine Corps General Thomas Waldhauser told reporters in a conference call that the dozens of additional American soldiers being sent to Somalia are "logisticians" rather than infantry troops.
This "long-scheduled deployment" is primarily intended to help to train Somali forces to become more effective in fighting Al-Shabaab, said Gen Waldhauser. He also disputed media reports that the [Donald] Trump administration has "loosened rules for authority to strike" Al-Shabaab targets.
He said the US command has been given "a little more authority to strike" in order to assist the African Union Mission in Somalia and Somali forces in missions that they are unable to carry out on their own, said the officer.
Any US strikes are carried out in conjunction with the Somali Government, he emphasised, adding that Africom is "going to great lengths to ensure" that civilian casualties do not occur when it does launch attacks. Differentiating between Al-Shabaab terrorists and Somali non-combatants is not easy, however, said Lt-Gen Osman Noor Soubagleh, the Amisom force commander.
African Union forces had difficulties in rooting out Al-Shabaab because they are "native Somalis" who "melt with the population", Lt-Gen Soubagleh remarked.
He said improved intelligence was needed to identify and target Al-Shabaab members.
Vanquishing the Islamist armed opposition "will not take longer if we get that", he predicted.
African Union special representative for Somalia Francisco Madeira affirmed during the conference call that Amisom intends to start withdrawing its forces in a year.
A full pullout and handover to the Somali National Army is envisioned by the end of 2020, said the envoy.
"Somalia is for Somalis," said Mr Madeira. We were not intended to stay there forever. We have to leave sometime."
The call came as 49 African military leaders met on April 18-20 under the aegis of Africom at its Stuttgart, Germany, headquarters.