The Pentagon’s gradually escalating combat mission in Somalia reached another important milestone Friday – one of many that have occurred since the inauguration of President Donald Trump – when the military revealed that it had carried out the first airstrikes against Islamic State-linked fighters in Somalia.
The news comes as ISIS forces in Syria were driven out of their last remaining patch of territory as Syrian Army forces retook the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, inspiring even anti-Assad pundits to marvel at the Army’s advance against seemingly insurmountable odds.
A US official told the Associated Press the strikes were carried out in northeastern Somalia, with the first around midnight local time and the second later in the morning. The official was not authorized to discuss the mission publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
But one Somali security official said at least six missiles struck Buqa, a remote mountainous village roughly 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Qandala town in Somalia’s northern state of Puntland. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
ISIS-linked fighters are a growing presence in the Horn of Africa nation long threatened by the al Qaeda-linked extremist group al-Shabab.
As most of the American public was made aware by the success of the movie “Black Hawk Down”, Somalia has been without a functioning government for a quarter-century. Its vast, ungoverned spaces allow extremist groups to gather and train. Al-Shabab has carried out deadly attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere – notably the 2013 Westgate shopping mall shooting in Nairobi. Attacks on military bases in the past two years have slowed a joint African Union-Somali offensives against the group.
The US had maintained a small presence of military advisers in Somalia for years. But shortly after Trump was inaugurated, he approved the Pentagon’s request to expand the US military role there. It includes carrying out more aggressive airstrikes against al-Shabab and considering parts of southern Somalia areas of active hostilities.
That expansion is progressing as lawmakers and the public continue to demand more information about a US special forces mission in Niger, where four green berets were recently killed in an ambush, purportedly by ISIS-linked forces.