Somalia: U.S. Drone Strikes Spike Under Trump Administration

On February 25, the US government confirmed that it had carried out a precision air strike in which an individual associated with the attack on Manda Bay and his wife, also an al-Shabaab member, were killed.

The two terrorists were identified as a "senior al-Shabaab leader, who was in charge of planning and directing terrorist operations on the Kenya border region, including the recent attack on Manda Bay, and his wife, who also was a willing and active member of al-Shabaab responsible for facilitating a wide range of terrorist activities," the statement read, stating that the air strike occurred in the vicinity of Saakow, Somalia, which is located about 320 kilometres west of Mogadishu.

Though shrouded in secrecy, drone strikes have become the signature attack option for Americans in the war against al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, one of the two African countries in which the US still maintains a robust military presence.

According to the New America think tank, the US government has carried out 42 strikes in Somalia in the last six months and a total of 235 strikes so far.

The New America's Counter-terrorism Wars project tracks US air strikes, drone strikes and other operations in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

The most recent air strikes, five in total, were carried out between March 16 and 17 near Janaale.


Records indicate that the number of US air strikes, drone strikes, and ground raids in Somalia have risen each year in the Trump administration.

From 13 under Barack Obama in 2016, the annual total rose to 38 in 2017, 47 in 2018, and 55 so far in 2019, by New America's count.

According to the think and action tank, by mid-2019, the US surpassed the number of strikes by drones and Special Operations raids of any previous year. The American military also conducted double the number of strikes that it had through August 2018.

In 2019, there was just over one attack per week in Somalia, according to new secret military documents obtained last week by The Intercept via the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents offer an exclusive window into the footprint of American military operations in Africa, with the highest concentrations in the Sahelian states on the west side of the continent and at the Horn of Africa.

Other than Manda Bay, there are 28 other bases located in 15 countries or territories in Africa. The 29 bases are composed of 15 "enduring locations" and 12 less-permanent "contingency locations."

The 15 "enduring locations" are located in Chebelly and Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, Entebbe (Uganda), Mombasa and Manda Bay in Kenya, Libreville (Gabon), St Helena in Ascension Island, Accra (Ghana), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Dakar (Senegal), Agadez (Niger), Niamey (Niger), N'Djamena (Chad).

The non-enduring bases are in Bizerte (Tunisia), Arlit, Dirkou and Ouallam in Niger, Bamako (Mali), Garoua and Maroua (Cameroon), Misrata and Tripoli in Libya, Baledogle, Bosasso, Galcayo, Kismayu and Mogadishu in Somalia and Wajir in Kenya.


The documents also indicate that the US military operates a contingency location in Laikipia.

About 300 US soldiers and military contractors are stationed in Kenya, the papers say.

Security analyst Edward Wanyonyi argues that air strikes and drone attacks have helped slow down the Shabaab.

"They are no longer able to move in big groups and their communication has been curtailed," Mr Wanyonyi, a graduate of war studies from King's College, London, says.

In the last two years, the number of air strikes and drone attacks have reached unprecedented levels.

The noticeable uptick in strikes follows US President Donald Trump's approval of rules for drone strikes called "Principles, Standards, and Procedures," which dismantled several Barack Obama -- era restrictions where such strikes were restricted to self-defence.

The policy shift was made in 2017 after Mike Pompeo, the CIA director at the time, who is now the US Secretary of State, made a proposal to President Trump that the agency's broader counterterrorism efforts were needlessly constrained.

Earlier in 2017, the US president allowed lethal operations in Somalia, designating parts of the country as "areas of active hostilities." This, effectively gave room for "war-zone targeting rules," despite the absence of a formal war declaration in Somalia.

Although Africom press statements seldom indicate which al-Shabaab leaders have been targeted, the strikes have killed several mid-and high-level al-Shabaab figures among them Ahmed Abdi Godane, a former al-Shabaab's emir, Mohamed Dubow, a terrorist who was suspected to have masterminded the 2015 Mandera quarry attack, and Abdullah Haji Da'ud, a senior military commander who was a principal co-ordinator and intelligence chief for attacks in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda.

Half of the operations that took place last year occurred in the southern regions of Lower Juba and Lower Shebelle, where al-Shabaab currently holds territory and where Kenya Defence Forces troops are stationed.

The most deadly strike so far occurred in Jilib on January 19 when up to 73 militants were killed, according to Africom.

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