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Could America’s War on Terror creep across Africa? 0

US legal and military justifications for conducting attacks in Somalia have evolved recently, leading to a surge in airstrikes. Could the same precedent be used elsewhere in Africa?

In March 2016, after weeks of gruelling exercises, a couple hundred al-Shabaab recruits marched in formation in front of their officers. The newly-minted graduates were in Raso Camp, about 120 miles north of Mogadishu, preparing for a large-scale offensive on a nearby drone base.

But that attack never took place. Instead, American planes conducted two flyovers, releasing three precision-guided missiles on each run. Within minutes, scores were killed – as many as 150 according to some sources – and many more were injured. Nearby cattle-herders recounted scenes of carnage and confusion as militants collected their dead comrades’ bodies as the camp burned around them.

According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the US had just launched its deadliest ever airstrike.

This wasn’t the first air operation the US had conducted in Somalia. In fact, 18 others preceded it. But this was the first strike in which the US invoked self-defence in the face of an “imminent threat”. And since Raso Camp, this justification has been used on six further occasions.

The US, it seems, has found a legal tool that provides grounds for easier and more expansive military operations in Somalia, and it may not stop there.

[Al-Shabaab has changed its tactics. AMISOM must do so too]

Entering Somalia

For many years, US involvement in Somalia was synonymous with the failed 1993 operation in which 19 US soldiers and hundreds of Somali citizens died in a failed raid in Mogadishu.  This incident, immortalised in the Hollywood blockbuster Black Hawk Down,led the US to withdraw and made it wary of intervening in foreign conflicts.

That changed after the September 11 World Trade Centre attacks in 2001. In a few short years after this, the US military found itself in Afghanistan and Iraq, with covert counter-terror teams expanding operations even further around the globe.

In 2006, Somalia’s civil war led to the emergence of al-Shabaab, a militant Islamist group dedicated to waging war against the Somali government and its political and military allies. And so, 13 years after it had retreated, the US had reason to be interested in Somalia once more. In 2007, it re-entered in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a regional peacekeeping mission tasked with fighting al-Shabaab and supporting the fledgling Somali government.

The US launched its first air operation in Somalia in that same year, targeting the alleged organisers of the long-past but hard-remembered 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The attack, conducted by a manned aircraft, hit four villages and a training camp near Ras Kamboni in the south of Somalia, killing up to ten Islamist militants. One of those was Fazul Abdhullah Mohammaed, a well-known figure within al-Qaeda, a group to which al-Shabaab would officially pledge allegiance in 2012.

Continue reading on Africa Arguments

By Austin Brush

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Direttore Responsabile Stefano Arduini