Trump gives military more authority to launch Somalia strikes

Trump gives military more authority to launch Somalia strikes
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President Trump is giving the Pentagon more authority to carry out airstrikes in Somalia.

“The president has approved a Department of Defense proposal to provide additional precision fires in support of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security forces operations to defeat al-Shabaab in Somalia,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis confirmed in a statement Thursday.

The statement comes after several news outlets reported earlier in the day that Trump had relaxed rules meant to safeguard against civilian casualties to allow for increased operations in the Horn of Africa country.

The new rules in Somalia could renew questions that have dogged the Trump administration about mission creep and civilian casualties.

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Trump has sent hundreds of additional troops to Iraq and Syria, and there’s been a spate of reports about a recent increase in civilian casualties in those countries.

Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of U.S. Africa Command, previously told reporters he requested the changes, which he said were necessary to strike the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab more quickly.

“It's very important and very helpful for us to have little more flexibility, a little bit more timeliness, in terms of decision-making process,” Waldhauser said at a Pentagon briefing last week.

The Pentagon has a small number of troops in Somalia and was previously allowed to carry out strikes in defense of partnered forces.

But because Somalia was not considered an active war zone, proposed strikes needed high-level, interagency vetting. The military also needed to prove the target posed a threat to Americans and that there was a near-certainty that no civilians would die.

To change that, Trump signed a directive Wednesday declaring parts of Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” according to reports. That means war-zone targeting rules -- in which commanders can choose to strike al Shabaab without an interagency review and without the other criteria -- will now apply for at least 180 days.

In his statement, Davis said more U.S. support will help local forces pressure al Shabaab.

“Somali and AMISOM forces have already achieved significant success in recapturing territory from al-Shabaab, and additional U.S. support will help them increase pressure on al-Shabaab and reduce the risk to our partner forces when they conduct operations,” he said.

“The additional support provided by this authority will help deny al-Shabaab safe havens from which it could attack U.S. citizens or U.S. interests in the region.”