NAIROBI, Kenya – It is only a few weeks, if not months, before the US African Command embarks on a serious mission in northeastern and coastal Kenya that will see air strikes launched against the Al-Shabaab militants, the New York Times reports in what could be the final stretch to break down militants.
For the past five years, the US-African Command, popularly known as AFRICOM, has intensified attacks on Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, but has focused primarily on air strikes, which are considered necessary, especially when persecuting terrorists in their harsh territories, especially in the Jubba and Shebelle regions.
This year alone, the command carried out 46 airstrikes and killed over 70 militants in the process. Among those killed were Bashir Qorgab, who was linked to the January 5 attack on Kenya’s Manda Airfield, Yusuf Jiis, and more recently an Abdulkadir Commandos who surrendered in August following an air strike in Lower Shebelle.
But it is Kenya, an ally of the United States, that has borne the brunt of al-Shabaab raids, with northeastern counties Mandera, Garissa and Wajir significantly affected due to proximity to Somalia. Also affected is the coastal county of Lamu, where militants carried out an attack on a U.S. naval base in Manda, leaving three Americans dead.
And with this progress, the NYT reported, the U.S.-African command through the Department of Defense has made a request to be allowed to carry airstrikes in northeastern and coastal Kenya, something that could significantly increase the fight against the militants.
The new authorities, which still need to be approved by Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and then President Trump, do not necessarily mean that the United States will start carrying out drone strikes in Kenya. Nevertheless, in certain circumstances, they would allow Africa Command to extend the drone war on terrorism to another country.
The pressure for the expanded authorities traces back to a Shabab attack in January on a military base in Kenya that housed U.S. troops, officials said. The attack at the airport at Manda Bay killed three Americans and caused millions of dollars in damage, the NYT added.
Bashir Qorgab was tracked down in Saakow city of Somalia after constructing the attack on Manda Airfield, and such actions necessitated AFRICOM’s decision to push for the strategy. The militants have often sneaked into Kenya because of the porous border in the region.
Colonel Christopher P. Karns, commander-in-chief of the command, declined to comment on the new authorities. “Africom certainly recognizes the need to apply constant international pressure on Al-Shabab and monitor their activity, presence and actively confront them to prevent their proliferation,” he said in an email. “This can take several forms.”
Lieutenant Anton T. Semelroth, a Pentagon spokesman, added in an email: “The U.S. military will defend U.S. personnel, citizens, and homeland as needed anywhere in the world.” Nor did he address the new guidelines.
Last week, the U.S.-African command Al-Shabaab ranked as a dangerous outfit against its citizens and allies in a statement released by General Stephen Townsend, who is commander of the outfit. The United States insisted it would continue to help Somalia in the fight.
Barely a week ago, militants looted a U.S. Army outpost known as Janaa Abdalla about 60 km west of Kismayo in an attack that left at least two Danab soldiers dead. According to the command, a US soldier was wounded and Al-Shabaab announced that the troops have since left the area.
“Al Shabab remained targeted and able to carry out attacks inside Kenya and along the border between Somalia and Kenya, in line with its stated intention to force Kenyan forces to withdraw from Somalia,” a report by Interagent inspectors concluded. published on September 1st.
Since January, al-Shabaab has carried out close to 20 attacks in the region, leaving over 30 Kenyans mainly security forces dead. In fact, the Kenyan government withdrew non-local teachers from the Northeast and Lamu earlier this year, further causing an education crisis as the militants have targeted this particular group.
An enraged President Uhuru Kenyatta called local leadership and got them to help the security forces identify Al-Shabaab agents, arguing that “the attacks cannot happen without your knowledge”. Since then, several militants have been killed or captured by special forces of the Kenya Defense Forces [KDF].
Across the border, the KDF team has intensified raids against Al-Shabaab, particularly in the Gedo and Lower Jubba regions, and recorded significant progress, including but not limited to liberating strategic cities such as Kismayo. There are close to 3,500 KDF soldiers in Somalia who joined AMISOM in 2012, a year right into Operation Linda Nchi.
Despite the gains, the troops have also suffered casualties, especially in El-Adde and Kulbiyow, where the militants killed close to 300 soldiers in 2016 and 2017, respectively. the normality of Jubaland.
The announcement from the US could increase the KDF, which is scheduled to withdraw in 2021 and move closer to the border between Kenya and Somalia, where they will monitor the militants.
The KDF team carried out airstrikes along the border and deep into the Gedo region in April this year, but the movement was met with opposition from the federal government in Somalia, which claimed that civilians were targeting the raids.