By Snigdha Kalra
On Friday, the 3rd of November, 2017, the United States, for the first time, conducted air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in northeastern Somalia in Africa. The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) executed two separate air strikes using drones in conjunction with Somalia’s government. The first one was conducted around midnight and the second one around 11 am local Somalia time. AFRICOM reports that several terrorists were killed in the strikes.
This comes a day after Trump responded to the attack in Manhattan, New York, saying that he will hit the militant group “ten times harder.” ISIS has already lost all major territory in Iraq and Syria, and the US has stepped up its efforts in Africa as well after Trump gave AFRICOM increased authority to attack militant groups operating in Somalia.
The Islamic State in Somalia
ISIS originated in Somalia as a separated faction of the al-Shabaab, a Jihadist group in East Africa, which has pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. In October 2015, a small group of 20 members led by Abdul Qadir Mumin pledged allegiance to Bhagdadi and ISIS, splitting from al-Shabaab. They formed the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) and started recruiting members. The group mainly operates in Puntland in northeastern Somalia. On 23rd May, 2017, it conducted its first suicide bombing attack in Puntland, killing five people and injuring twelve.
However, it is the al-Shabaab which is the bigger menace in Somalia. In September 2017, it launched an attack at a military base in Mogadishu—the capital of Somalia—which led to the killing of eight soldiers. On 14th October 2017, a truck bombing incident in Mogadishu became one of the deadliest attacks thus far, killing more than 350 people and injuring another 400. It is not clear who executed this attack, but the blame is currently pinned on al-Shabaab. Another truck bombing on 28th October killed 23 people and injured 30. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for this attack. Meanwhile, ISIS is also gradually trying to gain a stronghold in Somalia and other parts of Africa.
United States intervention
The US conducted its first military intervention against Islamist groups operating in Somalia in 2007. However, US intervention in Somalia goes as far back as 1992, when US President George W Bush sent in troops to Somalia to provide humanitarian relief and resources, as the country in the Horn of Africa was suffering from a terrible famine. In October 1993, an attempt at planned intervention by the US failed, resulting in the US troops withdrawing from Somalia. An attack, executed in conjunction with the United Nations peacekeeping troops, whose primary target was to capture Mohamed Farrah Aidid, led to the shooting down of Black Hawk helicopters (thus the name Black Hawk Down) and ended with the 18 US soldiers dead and 84 wounded; this prompted President Bill Clinton’s order to withdraw US troops from Somalia.
In the second leg of its intervention, the US has conducted at least 60 strikes against militant groups in Somalia since 2007. This was for the first time, though, that it planned an attack against the ISIS, owing to its growing presence and menace in the region. On 4th October 2017, the US and Nigerian troops were attacked and ambushed by about 50 Islamic militants in Africa, with the use of grenades and machine guns. This led to the death of four American soldiers and ten of the Nigerian envoy. The attack is said to have been administered by ISIS militants.
Increased power for AFRICOM
In April 2017, Donald Trump gave more authority to the military to conduct attacks in Somalia by relaxing rules pertaining to civilian casualties. Moreover, he announced the deployment of US troops in Somalia to aid the fight against al-Shabaab for the first time since their withdrawal in 1994.
On Thursday, the 9th of November, US forces yet again executed an airstrike against al-Shabaab in the Bay region of Somalia. The US military says it led to the killing of “several militants”. This comes just six days after the airstrikes conducted against ISIS. Samantha Reho, spokesperson of AFRICOM, said, “US forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats.” This goes to show that the US is stepping up its military operations against militant groups in Somalia. At the speed with which it is progressing, the coming months may see many more clashes between the US and these groups. More than two decades later, the US is ready to make its presence felt in Africa yet again.
Featured Image Source: CJTF-HOA