US launches second Somalia strike in week
The U.S. military carried out an airstrike in Somalia on Friday, its second such action in a week after a months-long gap in strikes.
In a statement, Pentagon spokesperson Cindi King said U.S. forces conducted a strike against militants from the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab terrorist group near Qeycad, Galmudug, Somalia.
U.S. forces, which were largely withdrawn from Somalia during the Trump administration, were “conducting a remote advise and assist mission in support of designated Somali partner forces,” King said, adding “there were no U.S. forces accompanying Somali forces during this operation.”
The statement provided no further details of the strike, citing “operational security.”
The Pentagon statement came after the Somali government announced the strike, saying in a statement it “destroyed al Shabaab fighters and weapons with zero civilian casualties.”
The strike is the second the U.S. military has conducted in Somalia under the Biden administration. The first happened Tuesday.
Prior to Tuesday, the U.S. military had not launched an airstrike in Somalia since Jan. 19, the day before President Biden took office.
Shortly after taking office in January, Biden initiated a review of the policy on drone strikes and commando raids in places like Somalia that are not considered conventional war zones. Amid the review, he also imposed temporary limits on such strikes.
Under the limits, approval for most strikes has to be routed through the White House.
But the Pentagon has said Tuesday’s strike was authorized by U.S. Africa Command chief Gen. Stephen Townsend, saying he had authority to order the strike under “collective self-defense.”
“The strike … was ordered by Gen. Townsend under his existing authorities to act in the defense of our Somali partners, who were under attack by al Shabaab,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Wednesday about the Tuesday strike. “He had the authorities to do this. He ordered this on his own.”
By contrast, the Pentagon’s statement Friday cited authorities under the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“U.S. forces are authorized to conduct strikes in support of combatant commander-designated partner forces under the 2001 AUMF,” King said.
The explanation of “collective self-defense” for Tuesday’s strike irked some lawmakers who have been pushing to rein in presidential war powers.
“We’re troubled that no one in the administration sought the required legal authorization from Congress for Tuesday’s drone strike in Somalia especially with no American forces at risk—and apparently, did not even check with our Commander-in-Chief,” Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a joint statement Thursday.
“We need to reestablish a system of checks and balances in our national security to make Congress a part of these decisions about war and peace and put the interests of the American people front and center,” they added. “It’s time to do away with questionable legal justifications claimed by one administration after the next for acts of war like this.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who came to America as a Somali refugee as a child, similarly wrote a letter to Biden on Friday questioning the “collective self-defense” justification.
“As you know, ‘collective self-defense’ is a term with variable meanings in national and international law, and especially in the context of your ongoing review of airstrike authorities, its use merits further explanation in this case,” she wrote.
“It is critical that we realize we are not going to simply drone the al Shabaab problem to death,” she added, “and that any kinetic action is part of a broader strategy focused first and foremost on the security of Somali people and the stability of the Somali state.”