Washington: A member of the Navy SEALS was killed and two other US service members were wounded in a raid in Somalia on Friday, the first US combat fatality there since the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” battle.
The combat death was another milestone in the United States’ escalating involvement in a war against Islamist militants called Al Shabab and showed the difficulty of fighting in the Horn of Africa country, where drought and famine have heightened chaos.
Yet the episode highlighted an anomaly: the US Africa Command, which oversees US military operations in Somalia, has yet to act on new authority from President Donald Trump freeing it from Obama-era constraints on strikes against Al Shabab. The commando’s death came during a Somali military operation, not an American one.
The head of Africa Command, General Thomas D. Waldhauser, has said he is exercising caution in using his new authority to launch US-led missions, taking into consideration the difficulty of conducting operations amid a population of civilians on the move in search of food, and aid workers scrambling to provide it.
And though Waldhauser’s caution comes amid increased scrutiny on control that Trump has ceded to the military, Trump administration officials have begun questioning why Africa Command, which pushed to be unleashed, has carried out no operations under its new authority. Several said a meeting next week on the topic is under consideration for an inter-agency policy meeting organised by the National Security Council staff.
Defence Department officials said the service member, who was not identified, was killed during an operation in which Americans advised and assisted Somali troops targeting a Shabab compound. Pentagon helicopters delivered Somali forces to the operation near Barii, about 40 miles west of the capital of Mogadishu, officials said. US advisers hung back, per the rules of engagement, while the Somalis carried out the raid.
Al Shabab seized on the commando’s death as a propaganda tool, with a spokesman telling a militant-run radio station that “the enemy returned back to where they came from along with wounds and deaths.”