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article imageOp-Ed: U.S. to become more involved in Somalia

By Ken Hanly     Mar 31, 2017 in Politics
Mogadishu - On the request of U.S. African Command leaders, President Trump has relaxed the combat rules for U.S. troops and operations within Somalia.
The change in the rules will give generals more leeway in deciding when to launch attacks and also remove restrictions that were in place to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. attacks. The rules have changed through Trump signing a directive that now makes large portions of Somalia to be "areas of active hostilities". The designation makes the rules for engagement significantly less restrictive than in other areas and would allow for more civilian deaths. This is occurring at a time when there have been questions raised about the large increase in civilian deaths during the U.S.-led coalition bombings as part of the Mosul offensive in Iraq.
The move is the latest of a number of moves removing restrictions on operations, as the Trump administrations gives commanders in the field more autonomy and places fewer restrictions on their operations. In the past, Trump has been critical of U.S. involvement in wars especially the Middle East: "Trump further added that the amount of time, effort, and money spent in the Middle East over the past 16-17 years has been wasted, saying that “it’s a mess we’ve never seen before.” " Nevertheless, he is upping US involvement in many areas both in the Middle East and probably in Afghanistan where a general has asked for up to 5,000 more troops. The Pentagon has announced that reporters do not need to know the exact numbers of troops sent to Iraq and Syria and they will not be provided from now on. Recent announcements show troops going to several areas: " The piecemeal announcements from the Trump administration of troop deployments include 400 Marines to Syria, 2500 troops to Kuwait, and another 200 troops to Iraq to support operations against the ISIS held city of Mosul."
The new rules for Somalia will help commanders at the U.S. Africa Command in their battle against the al-Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab. General Thomas Waldhauser the top officer of the Command requested Trump to designate the new areas of hostilities and said: “It’s very important and very helpful for us to have little more flexibility, a little bit more timeliness, in terms of decision-making process. It allows us to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion.The additional support provided by this authority will help deny Al Shabab safe havens from which it could attack U.S. citizens or U.S. interests in the region."
While the rules of engagement have not changed apparently, Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command said that new procedures made it much easier for commanders in the field to call in airstrikes without waiting for permission from more senior officers. Apparently, the Trump administration is also considering whether to scrap the 2013 rules altogether. Luke Hartig , a former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council in the Obama administration said that the Somali decision was helpful but increased risks: “The downside is you risk potentially greater civilian casualties or potentially killing militants who are not part of our enemy.” Apparently, the relaxation of the targeting limits was first suggested by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. He also suggested doing the same for Yemen where Trump has escalated U.S. involvement.
The New York Times reports that the Somalia review was slowed, according to officials, after criticism of the commando raid in Yemen that resulted in the death of a Navy Seal and the loss of a $75 million aircraft not to mention the death of many civilians. There are 200 to 300 U.S. Special Operations forces working with Somali soldiers and African forces in carrying out a number of raids. The Pentagon acknowledges only a fraction of the number of raids. New America, a Washington Think tanks estimated there were five raids in 2015 and 13 in 2016 that killed about 25 civilians and 200 suspected militants.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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