Donald Trump’s presidency has coincided with a sharp rise in US-led airstrikes in Somalia and the trend is set to continue in 2019.
In a speech in December outlining the US’ Africa policy, President Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said “terrorists operating in Africa have… repeatedly targeted US citizens and interests”. The message was that there would be no let up in the struggle against militant Islamist groups, such as the Somalia-based al-Shabab, which is affiliated to al-Qaeda: Commanders now no longer require high-level vetting to approve strikes on al-Shabab in “areas of active hostilities” in Somalia.
Africom has now carried out at least 46 confirmed airstrikes in Somalia in 2018, following the previous record of 38 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ). Some single strikes have focused on large groups of militants. For example, about 60 were killed on 12 October around Harardere in the central Mudug region, in what was the largest airstrike of its kind in nearly a year. Other strikes focused on individuals, such as the lone militant targeted and killed six days earlier in Kunyo Barrow in southern Somalia. In fact, BIJ has revealed that at least 538 people have been killed in these airstrikes since the beginning of 2017, far more than the previous 10 years combined.
Anyway, Al-Shabab will retain its vast geographical control. Even if its commanders are being killed in targeted strikes, the group has established a system to replace them and to continue the conflict for the foreseeable future.