WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is not letting political turbulence in Somalia or politics in Capitol Hill slow its attack against al Qaeda and ISIS offshoots in the eastern African nation.
As of June 5, there have been 38 U.S. air strikes in Somalia this year, compared to 47 strikes during 2018, Pentagon officials said Wednesday. The strikes’ primary focus has been on the al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab, with the remainder on ISIS-Somalia.
“Precision airstrikes such as this one are part of our partnered strategy with the Federal Government of Somalia to transition the security in the country to a Somali-led force,” U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) said Friday in a statement, in the aftermath of a June 5 strike. One militant, not identified with a specific terrorist group, was killed in that attack, the statement said.
The Pentagon has about 700 personnel in Somalia, as part of Operation Octave Shield. That an anti-terrorist effort is led by the African Union.
Some members of Congress have been critical of the Pentagon’s wars in Africa and called for more transparency. Meanwhile, some in the Somali government are uneasy having U.S. air strikes rain on parts of the their country.
“Airstrikes create additional time and space for continued incremental progress in Somalia,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Huston, AFRICOM’s deputy director of operations, said in a press release. “The last few days presented opportunities to successfully reduce terrorist influence and activity.”
According to numbers presented on press releases, air strikes killed 103 militants in January, 79 in February, 16 in March, 7 in April, 28 in May and 1 in June.
On Tuesday, the head of AFRICOM, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, and U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Donald Yamamoto met with Somalia Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire and other senior Somali officials in Mogadishu to discuss the future of the anti-terrorist operation.
“Discussions centered on the progress the U.S. interagency team has witnessed in Somalia, as well as U.S. whole-of-government support for the Federal Government of Somalia to set the conditions required for lasting security and stability,” AFRICOM said in a release.
The Pentagon estimates that al-Shabaab has 5,000-7,000 fighters and controls about 20% of Somalia. ISIS-Somalia has about 500, the Pentagon estimates.
Waldhauser told Congress in February that “Somalia remains key to the security environment of East Africa, and its long-term stability is important to advancing U.S. interests in the region.” He said the “incremental progress” made over the past decade is the result of the international effort inside the country.