Rep. Ilhan Omar questions Biden’s first airstrike on Somalia

REP. ILHAN OMAR is challenging the Biden administration’s justification for its Tuesday airstrike in Somalia, which the Pentagon claimed was targeted against suspected members of al-Shabab. The Minnesota Democrat is also hitting the White House for a failure to make promised and appropriated reparation payments to families of civilians killed in American airstrikes, according to a letter to President Joe Biden that was provided to The Intercept. The strike was the first in Somalia since Biden took office and came amid the White House’s stated plans, put forward by national security adviser Jake Sullivan in January, to limit drone operations while the administration reviews its counterterrorism policy. Omar, who grew up in Somalia before spending four years in a Kenyan refugee camp, represents a district with a heavy Somali American population.

 

The airstrike near the city of Galkayo targeted militants in al-Shabab, an insurgency group based in Somalia that the U.S. has long fought as part of its so-called global war on terror. Sullivan’s directive instructed the military and CIA to gain White House permission before launching attacks in places like Somalia and Yemen.

Since then, the administration has rejected requests by U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, to strike al-Shabab targets. But according to the New York Times, Tuesday’s attack occurred without White House approval. In this case, the militants were supposedly attacking members of an elite U.S.-trained Somali commando force called Danab, and Pentagon spokesperson Cindi King said AFRICOM had the power to authorize the response independently under the military’s “collective self-defense” justification. No U.S. troops were actually with the Danab commandos when the attack occurred, as they were advising the unit remotely.

Omar found the rationale unpersuasive. “As you know,” she wrote in the letter, “‘collective self-defense’ is a term with variable meanings in national and international law, and especially in the context of your ongoing review of airstrike authorities, its use merits further explanation in this case. This is also an important and timely matter since it seems suggestive of your Administration’s broader approach to airstrikes in Somalia.”