Somalia has received its first American drone strikes against ISIS, demonstrating its growing importance as a center in the global war on Jihadism.
According to reports, two strikes occurred on Friday, targeting members of ISIS. While few details of these targets were given, officials have stated that “several terrorists” were eliminated in the strikes. Samantha Reho, a spokesperson for US Africa Command (AFRICOM), told media sources that "US forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats," indicating that we can expect to see more of these operations in the country. This is not so surprising considering that the announcement came the same day President Trump vowed to ramp up anti-terror operations in the wake of the recent NYC truck attacks.
An important note that AFRICOM emphasized in their statement was the strike’s role in their support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the coalition of African nations assisting the Somali government in securing the country from the influx of radical militant groups and training the country’s military to be more independent.
There are two important indicators to take away here:
It is no secret that Somalia’s internal security situation has been deteriorating. A series of recent devastating attacks have shown just how vulnerable the country has become to Jihadist factions such as ISIS and the Al Qaida affiliated Al Shabaab. While the effects of the attacks themselves are bad enough, what’s more concerning is what these attacks say about Somalia’s ability to govern and protect itself. AMISOM’s withdrawal from the country is set to begin next year, with a complete withdrawal by 2020. These attacks are less than reassuring that Somalia can float on their own, and are clearly the primary motivation for the US stepping up its involvement in the country, where it has been operating at a low level via special operations for quite a while now.
There is no doubt that the long-term commitment of the US indicated by officials will remain a feature of the country for the foreseeable future, and may indeed increase even further if AMISOM’s rollback commences in the coming months as planned.
A second takeaway is what this means for US strategy in its war on terror.
Important strategic changes on the battlegrounds of the Middle East have translated into shifts in US focus as well. The primary target of America’s war-fighting efforts in the region has been the ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Now that these strongholds have been diminished over the past months in the battles for Mosul and Raqqa, there have been increasing signs of shifting sights toward the African continent, which has remained a largely unnoticed breeding ground for militant Islamic groups.
This is only the latest of these signs, but arguably the clearest yet.
As ISIS offshoots look to invest in new spheres of influence after losing significant ground in their Middle Eastern heartland, American strategists are wise to respond with their own African venture.