MOGADISHU – US air strikes in Somalia increased 30 percent in 2022, as the Biden administration increased US involvement in the Horn of Africa country that is experiencing a fresh wave of fighting between the government and al-Shabaab militants.
The Pentagon conducted 15 air strikes in 2022 on the al-Qaeda-linked group, according to the Long War Journal tracker. Africom said the strikes killed at least 107 al-Shabaab fighters.
The US has conducted military operations against al-Shabaab in Somalia since 2007. Last year, US President Joe Biden reversed a move by the Trump administration to withdraw US troops from the country.
The Biden administration’s decision came as the African Union began winding down its mission in Somalia, and amid renewed concerns about the threat posed by al-Shabaab.
Africom estimates the militant group has 5,000 to 10,000 fighters across the country of 15 million, controlling territory in southern and central Somalia.
On Saturday, Somalia’s government claimed for the first time that al-Shabaab called for open negotiations with the government, as it conducts a military offensive against the group it described as “total war”.
The uptick in fighting between al-Shabaab and government forces has come as the country experiences a fresh wave of attacks. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a twin suicide car bombing in Somalia’s Hiran region on Wednesday that killed at least 10 people.
Last year was a particularly bloody one. More than 100 people died in October when two car bombs exploded in a busy Mogadishu intersection. In August, al-Shabaab launched a dayslong siege on a Mogadishu hotel that left more than 20 people dead.
Theatre for regional competition
Some US lawmakers have raised concerns about the US military campaign in Somalia, which has been carried out on the grounds of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed following the 9/11 terror attacks.
Successive US administrations have used the AUMF to approve military action in countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, and Djibouti, despite no formal declaration of war by Congress.
In December, Democratic Congresswoman Sara Jacobs and Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to the Pentagon arguing that the Defence Department was undercounting civilian casualties in Somalia, compared to human rights groups and NGOs.
Somalia, which has been wracked by political crisis and infighting for decades, has also become a theatre of competition for regional actors.
Turkey has trained thousands of Somali government forces over the last decade and has its biggest overseas military base in Mogadishu. Analysts say Qatar and the UAE are also active in the country, training and recruiting their own fighters.