The US Is Back in Somalia: Elephants in the Room Ignored

“On 2 February [2020], at around 8pm, a family of five was sitting down to dinner in the city of Jilib, in Somalia’s Middle Juba region, when an air-dropped weapon – likely a US GBU-69/B Small Glide Munition with a 16-kilogramme warhead – struck their home. Nurto Kusow Omar Abukar, an 18-year-old woman, was struck in the head by a heavy metal fragment from the munition and killed instantly. The strike also injured her two younger sisters, Fatuma and Adey, aged 12 and seven, and their grandmother, Khadija Mohamed Gedow, aged around 70.”[1]

“In the middle of the afternoon on 24 February 2020, a Hellfire missile from another US air strike hit the Masalanja farm near the village of Kumbareere, 10 kilometres north of Jilib, killing 53-year-old Mohamud Salad Mohamud. He was a banana farmer and Jilib office manager for Hormuud Telecom, and he left behind a wife and eight children.”[2]

These are just two instances of US drone strikes in Somalia. AFRICOM did not bother contacting the victims’ families (shocking, isn’t it?).

The focus here is terrorism, to whatever extent it is real or imagined. Amnesty International pointed out that there is no effort to even offer the public any evidence of links between the victims and al-Shabab.

Let’s just take a look at the language that they used:

“Al-Shabaab leadership has expressed its primary desire is to conduct attacks not just in East Africa, but against Americans and U.S. interests across the globe. Currently, our command assesses the al-Qaeda-aligned group lacks the capability to strike the U.S. homeland due to the persistent pressure placed on the group led by our African partners.

Initial assessment concluded the airstrike killed one (1) terrorist.

We currently assess no civilians were injured or killed as a result of this airstrike.”

Amnesty claims the man killed was Mohamud Salad Mohamud, a banana farmer and manager at a telecommunications firm. They strongly suggest, based on their own investigations, that this man had no links to al-Shabab.

This attack was part of a US response to al-Shabab’s targeting of a US military base in Kenya in January of the same year, in which three were killed, one from the US military and two US civilians on the base.

Unfortunately, the US’s role in this is not surprising, nor is the Somalian government’s support of the US. But it’s still the reason we should be protesting this and paying close attention when the government announces they will be increasing troop numbers in Somalia to help fight terrorism, as it has just done.

This is a reversal of Trump’s pulling out of most troops in Somalia.

Along with Special Operations forces being sent over to the country with more than a 99 percent Muslim population, it is reported that the Pentagon has also approved targeting “about a dozen suspected leaders of the East African Al Qaeda affiliate.”

Despite being Biden’s move, this decision is demonstrative of what virtually all administrations (with the possible exception of Trump, in some instances) do—meddle in other countries’ internal affairs, causing what seems like maximum damage.

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In announcing the return of troops to Somalia, Washington added that there will be no troops in active combat. The main goal, they say, is to degrade al-Shabab through “training, advising, and equipping partner forces.” This is yet another step in drawing out the war on terror.

The counter to this is that they have no choice because of the serious threats of al-Shabab. This results in a chicken-and-egg argument, and while there’s no denying that civilians have been harmed by al-Shabab, as per usual, we can point to instances where the US has harmed Somali civilians and has generally taken a superficial approach to the problem of local violence. This is one of the specialties of the US, and the jury’s still out on whether its intentional or due to some kind of ignorance. It’s more than likely a combination of the two.

Some of the attacks blamed on al-Shabab, the group has taken credit for; others, they have not. And that leaves room for questions, because while they could have been the perpetrators of some attacks which they didn’t take credit for, we know well that the US and the Somali government wants them to be responsible. It’s just easier for them that way; it becomes a black and white story.

But as we’ve seen through the reports on US misconduct, there’s much more of a gray area than is let on. Let us recall as well the level of corruption coming from the very top of the Somali government, the very government that al-Shabab is against. Not shying away from such realities doesn’t imply full support of the group. It simply helps in understanding why groups like al-Shabab exist.

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Another interesting piece of this puzzle is that the US also recently visited Berbera, in Somaliland; an area that operates independently of Somalia but is not recognized internationally as its own state. They were, according to an AFRICOM press release, viewing an airfield that they had already “assessed last summer.”

No one can be certain of what this means, but Foreign Policy’s take on it is a helpful one:

“The United States’ only permanent military base in the region is in Djibouti [around 94% Muslim], neighboring Somalia on the strategically important choke point between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. However, Djibouti also hosts a Chinese military base and is unnerving U.S. policymakers with deepening ties to Beijing. Another point in Somaliland’s favor, regional experts say, is its tradition of holding regular elections, in contrast with Somalia, where the government has been criticized by the United States and other countries for delaying long-planned elections.”

For now, the US is holding on to what they’ve recently coined as a “one Somalia policy,” but who knows what the future holds.

RELATED: African Lion: Neo-colonial AFRICOM Completes Annual Military Exercises

The Drought in Somalia

The US appears to be focused on al-Shabab at the expense of other serious matters in Somalia, namely the drought that is causing displacement and threatening mass starvation. Matters are being worsened by the global rise in prices of basic goods such as wheat, cooking oil, and petrol.

Yes, USAID is trying to address this growing concern, and of course we cannot simply blame the US for this problem of drought. But there are two important points here.

The first is that, we’re already aware of some of the general harms of foreign aid, namely causing a dependency that minimizes the likelihood of solving root problems. Secondly, the greater concern to the US is, arguably, al-Shabab because it’s part of their war on terror, a never-ending war that can act as legitimizer of intervention.

If the goal is to solve some of these basic problems that only add to instability and violence, then perhaps the US’s resources for military and humanitarian aid in Somalia need to be better synchronized, without ignoring the facts that the Somalian government itself has serious problems.

But that’s the question, is that the goal? Actually resolving some of these basic problems in the country? I’m not on the inside to have all the answers, nor am I an expert on US aid to Somalia, but it seems one doesn’t need to be to notice that something seems awry.

According to some analysts, the current military plan is too “narrow” to actually make a deeper impact.

Creating positive change would require much more than propping up a corrupt regime, taking out what are sometimes dubious targets, and providing some aid (even if those at USAID are well-intentioned). Indeed, this is representative of a greater problem of the work of both governments and NGOs abroad. The web of “help” has been spun to intricately to ever be understood, and hence, we all lose a sense of base problems and basic steps to lead toward solutions to those base problems.

Why should we expect the US to take up this cause in Somalia anyway? They’re first and foremost there for their political interests. It seems like a cause better suited to Muslims, whose interest goes beyond the political (although it certainly doesn’t exclude that, either).

May Allah strengthen the resolve of Somalians, and may we not forget them.

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  2. Ibid.
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