Al-Shabaab terrorist group threatens to trap the U.S. military in Somalia
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The Pentagon’s war against terror in Somalia was supposed to begin winding down next year, but the number of American airstrikes against al-Shabab targets keeps increasing and the Trump administration’s exit plan seems to have stalled.
The conflict is a major outlier in President Trump’s quest to stop “endless wars,” as U.S. military involvement has ramped up steadily over the past four years.
It also has caught Pentagon leaders between two increasingly unpalatable options and has created a potential quagmire in the Horn of Africa. There is virtually no political will to commit American ground troops to a lengthy fight, which is likely necessary in order to decisively defeat a powerful al Qaeda affiliate that controls an estimated 25% of Somali territory and has proved itself capable of carrying out major terrorist attacks.
But a full U.S. withdrawal, specialists warn, could result in disaster and a power vacuum likely to be filled by a host of bad actors.
The federal government in Mogadishu remains weak even by regional standards, and neither Somali government troops nor African Union forces patrolling the country are capable of dealing with al-Shabab on their own.
This week offered another reminder of how deadly the terrorist group can be. Al-Shabab militants on Monday tried to drive a car bomb through a checkpoint near Jana Cabdalle, Somalia, killing two Somali soldiers and wounding one American service member. The group also supported the car bomb attack with mortar fire, U.S. military officials said.
Against the backdrop of such attacks, the sustained U.S. air campaign seems to be all that is keeping the fragile country from being entirely overrun by a terrorist army.
“Somalia makes Afghanistan look like a First World power,” said Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Washington think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies who tracks the U.S. war in Somalia. “Shabab is still able to carry out high-profile attacks in the capital [of Mogadishu]. It’s not going away, and the Somali forces are not going to be able to handle this on their own.
“The U.S. actions in Somalia are basically keeping a lid on the problem,” he said. “It’s not going to defeat Shabab. … We can only effect change on the margins here.”
Despite its limitations, the Pentagon’s Somali air war continues to pick up steam. U.S. forces so far this year have conducted at least 46 strikes against al-Shabab targets, according to figures provided by U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM.
Source: Washington Times