A surge in the number of U.S. air strikes in Somalia is raising questions about Washington’s mission there, the risk it poses to civilians, and whether Congress should pull back the reins on increasingly opaque military operations in Africa and elsewhere.
At Odds Over Civilian Deaths
The Trump administration is facing increasing scrutiny over the U.S. presence in Somalia from human rights groups, which say that civilian deaths have been increasingly obscured.
A March 2019 report [PDF] by Amnesty International found that at least fourteen civilians were killed in just five of the more than seventy air strikes the United States has carried out in the country since early 2017. The report is based on interviews with witnesses, family members, and medical professionals, as well as a review of photographic evidence.
The U.S. military disputes the report; it says none of those strikes resulted in any civilian casualties.
The U.S. Mission in Somalia
For more than a decade the United States has sought to help the Somali government defeat the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda. Washington has deployed hundreds of troops and provided hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Mogadishu, largely through an African Union peacekeeping mission backed by the United Nations.
But the United States has increasingly relied on air strikes to counter the militant group. In 2016 the Obama administration carried out fourteen strikes by both drones and manned aircraft, a marked increase from prior years. The CIA is believed to be involved in other U.S. operations there, though details of its activities are sparse.