by Jamie McIntyre
Friday January 4, 2019
THE OTHER WAR: President Trump is pulling 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria because he believes their mission aiding local forces battling ISIS has gone on long enough. At the same time, though, 500 U.S. troops are in Somalia, conducting a very similar mission aiding local forces battling al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate. As in Syria, U.S. troops are largely special operations forces who advise, assist, and accompany the Somali government and AMISOM troops in the field. AMISON is the U.N.-authorized African Union Mission to Somalia. And, as in Syria, the U.S. is providing lethal airpower to enable its partner troops on the ground to prevail in almost every engagement with al Shabaab militants.
IT’S COMBAT: The Somalia mission is based on the same model developed under the Obama administration. Find local forces to do the fighting, and enable them with U.S. expertise, intelligence, and firepower. Just like in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, U.S. troops are not doing the front-line fighting. But they are in dangerous combat zones and do occasionally suffer casualties. Last year the U.S. lost one soldier in Syria and one in Somalia.
IT’S DEADLY: While al-Shabab extremists still control much of southern and central Somalia, the U.S. airstrikes have methodically reduced their number. The pace of airstrikes (mostly conducted by drones) have dramatically increased over the last six months, as each mission produces a site that can be exploited to get more intelligence about the group’s movements and leaders.
WHO KNEW? The U.S. Africa Command posts a boilerplate news release for every strike, plugging in the location, the number of strikes, and how many enemies it assesses were killed. That includes a standard disclaimer, “At this time we assess no civilians were injured or killed in this airstrike.” But the strikes, which often kill small numbers at a time, get little notice.
Just yesterday, AFRICOM posted the first release of the new year, in which it claimed to have killed 10 al-Shabaab militants Jan. 2. A Washington Examiner tabulation of news releases from 2018 shows that in more than 40 airstrikes, 323 militants were said to have been killed.
THE QUESTION: The Somalia mission is an example of how the U.S., with a small footprint, and minimal casualties, can keep the pressure on a terrorist group thousands of miles away, so that they are more worried about their own survival than plotting against the U.S. or its allies. So, if the U.S. can afford to keep 500 troops in Somalia, why can’t smaller force remain in Syria doing the same thing until ISIS is truly eliminated?
THE DIFFERENCES: The U.S. is in Somalia at the invitation of the Somali government, and with a United Nations mandate. That is not the case in Syria. And unlike Syria, there is no NATO ally like Turkey urging the U.S. to get out. Russia and Iran are not in Somalia, which doesn’t have the strategic location equal to Syria’s.