The U.S. military is sending “dozens” of additional troops to Somalia for training with the Somali National Army and African Union peacekeepers.
One military official told CNN there would be about forty soldiers in the new contingent. A U.S. Africa Command spokesman said a “few dozen” troops from the 101st Airborne Division would be involved. The new deployment will roughly double the number of American special operations forces already supporting the Somali military.
“The objective of this particular train and equip mission is to improve the logistical capacity of the Somali National Army and the focus will be on teaching basic logistics operations, which will allow Somalia forces to better fight al-Shabaab,” spokesman Charles Chuck Prichard said.
Al-Shabaab is the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group that controls a sizable portion of rural Somalia. On Sunday, al-Shabaab’s most recent ambush in Somalia reportedly killed five Kenyan soldiers and wounded four others, destroying their vehicle with an improvised explosive device.
The attack has been described as retaliation for U.S. airstrikes that supposedly killed over 100 al-Shabaab militants on Saturday, including 20 of their commanders.
President Trump authorized the American military to conduct offensive counterterrorism strikes against al-Shabaab positions in Somalia in March. However, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) issued a statement describing reports of an airstrike over the weekend as “false,” insisting the American military “did not conduct any kind of kinetic action in that area during the timeframe referenced.”
AFRICOM’s press release highlighted U.S. troops training Somali forces to “better fight al-Shabaab” as a more realistic example of cooperation with the government of Somalia.
This enhanced cooperation was inspired by the election of Somalia’s new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who declared full-scale war against al-Shabaab, replaced his country’s entire military leadership, and issued a 60-day ultimatum for the militants to surrender on April 6.
“Bomb attacks have become a common occurrence. Because of that, I would like to announce to the Somali people that the country is in a state of war, and the state of the war is not going to be on one front. This war will be a justified one,” declared Mohamed, the day after al-Shabaab killed seven people at the Interior Ministry with a truck bomb.
Skeptics pointed out that Mohamed does not have the military forces to conduct such an all-out war, as Somalia relies heavily on troops from the African Union. Mohamed – who grew up in Buffalo, New York, and is widely known by his nickname “Farmajo,” a play on the Italian word for “cheese” – made rebuilding the Somali military and fighting terrorism a top priority during his campaign. Even some of his supporters and foreign well-wishers thought that was a tall order. More training and air support from the United States would be a big step in the right direction.