U.S. escalates clandestine war against militants in Somalia

Source: NYT/TampaBay

The Obama administration has intensified a clandestine war in Somalia over the past year, using special operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies in an escalating campaign against Islamist militants in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation

About 200 to 300 U.S. Special Operations troops work with soldiers from Somalia and other African nations such as Kenya and Uganda to carry out more than a half-dozen raids per month, according to senior U.S. military officials. The operations are a combination of ground raids and drone strikes.

The Navy’s classified SEAL Team 6 has been heavily involved in many of these operations.

Once ground operations are complete, U.S. troops working with Somali forces often interrogate prisoners at temporary screening facilities, including one in Puntland, a state in northern Somalia, before the detainees are transferred to more permanent Somali-run prisons, U.S. military officials said.

The Pentagon has acknowledged only a small fraction of these operations. But even the information released publicly shows a marked increase this year. The Pentagon has announced 13 ground raids and airstrikes in 2016 — including three operations in September — up from five in 2015, according to data compiled by the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank. The strikes have killed about 25 civilians and 200 people suspected of being militants, the group found.

The strikes have had a mixed record. In March, a U.S. airstrike killed more than 150 al-Shabab fighters at what military officials called a “graduation ceremony,” one of the deadliest U.S. airstrikes in any country in recent years. But an airstrike last month killed more than a dozen Somali government soldiers, who were U.S. allies against al-Shabab.

Outraged Somali officials said the Americans had been duped by clan rivals and fed bad intelligence, laying bare the complexities of waging a shadow war in Somalia. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the Pentagon was investigating the strike.

Some experts point out that with the administration’s expanded self-defense justification for airstrikes, a greater U.S. presence in Somalia would inevitably lead to an escalation of the air campaign.

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