Biden Administration Eases Drone Strikes a Test for Somali Security Forces

Somali defense minister Hassan Haji (right) visited injured soldiers from the Saturday al Shabaab camps raid in Lower Shebelle. The wounded soldiers were airlifted to Mogadishu hospital. (Photo Credit: SNTV)

The Al Shabaab has intensified attacks against military facilities in Somalia weeks after the U.S. military eased the deadly drone attacks targeting the group’s top military command which helped disrupt the frequency of its operational planning, security analysts have said.

Andrews Atta-Asamoah, Head of Africa Peace and Security Governance at the Addis Ababa-based Institute of Security Studies, said the series of drone attacks targeting the top military commanders of the Al Shabaab heavily contributed to its inability to carry out frequent military strikes.

“The U.S. operated drone strikes did not decimate the Al-Shabaab entirely but it affected the ability of its top leadership to continue robustly replacing those eliminated in order to keep operations running effectively. The targeted removal of the top command has the impact of disrupting the group. Anytime a leader is killed during the drone strikes, it resulted in a disruption in his area of control,” Atta-Asamoah said in an interview with Horn Dispatch.

The US military Africa Command has carried out at least six drone strikes in 2021, targeting top military commanders, the Horn Dispatch reports based on a record of recent aerial strikes in Somalia.

The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) military command carried its last two airstrikes in Jamame and Deb Scinnele on Jan 19th 2021. The previous day the strike targeted al-Shabaab compound near Tiyeeglow, Somalia, according to AFRICOM Commanders.

“These strikes targeted known al-Shabaab leaders involved in IED facilitation, fighter training and attack planning,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, Joint Task Force-Quartz commander.

“Striking these leaders disrupts al-Shabaab’s ability to attack our partners and indiscriminately kill innocent civilians with improvised explosive devices. We are working closely with our Somali partners to support their operations against al-Shabaab, protect their people, and provide governance.”

US drone attacks have been used against al-Shabaab in Somalia since 2007. The attacks have increased steadily over the years.

There have been 340 declared and alleged US drone strikes in Somalia since 2007, with the reported deaths of at least 2,500 alleged militants and claims of 300 civilian deaths.

U.S. service members speak with Danab soldiers on in Somalia Jan. 28, 2021. AFRICOM forces continue to train, advise and support Somali and other East African partners in their fight against violent extremism. (Photo Credit: US Africa Command)

US President Donald Trump’s administration conducted 276 strikes in the four years of its reign.

The Al-Shabaab terror attacks against the Somali administration, troops and civilians have been on the rise since January 2021. The militant group has concentrated attacks in Mogadishu, targeting security personnel. It claimed responsibility for at least 10 Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) attacks targeting Somalia National Army positions in Mogadishu.

On March 5, the militants targeted a prison in the seaport city of Bossaso, releasing prisoners. The attack was followed a few days later on March 9, by an operation carried out by operatives in El Adde town in the Gedo region executing four people they accused of spying for foreign governments. On the same day, fighters from the group attacked government forces positions in Luuq town.

On 3 April, the Al Shabaab stormed two Somali National Army (SNA) Operating Bases in Bariire and Awdhigle towns in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia, about 100 kilometers southwest of the capital Mogadishu, a Somali army commander said.

The militants stormed the two military bases using explosives followed by active shooters from multiple fronts during the dawn raid, a style which has been used in previous incidences to breach security at various high-scale security installations in Somalia and around East Africa.

The Somalia National Army Commanders played down the magnitude of the attack, saying the attackers sustained more serious battlefield losses.

“The assailants tried to attack but our soldiers who knew about their tricks responded effectively. The militants were defeated,” Somalia Army Chief, General Odowa Yusuf Rage told reporters in Mogadishu.

Somali Infantry Commander General Mohamed Tahlil claimed in reports carried on the state-owned media the government forces killed 76 Al-Shabaab fighters and captured at least 10 others.

The Al Shabaab claimed it killed the government soldiers in the camps and captured military vehicles.

The rise of attacks is blamed on the political impasse over the parliamentary and presidential elections that have dragged on since September 2020, but on the battlefield, the U.S. military’s easing of the aerial drone attacks also played a major role in emboldening the terror group’s military offensive.

Somali government captured Bariire and Awdhigle towns in 2019. Holding to these strategic towns in lower Shabelle is a test for the government forces trained to take over security responsibilities from some 22,000 African Union troops who have been providing peace and military support to the government and the population since 2007.

Security analysts agree that the impact of the drone strikes on thwarting the planning process and the operations of the Al Shabaab on the ground is not in doubt.

However, this has not removed al-Shabaab ability to disrupt, organize, and hit the government in any way, but it has interfered with the fluidity of command and control within the group.

The aerial strikes have reduced the group’s movement and ability to carry out widespread attacks against African Union troops and Somali government forces.

The recent lull in US airstrikes is linked to US President Joe Biden Administration’s temporary limits on drone strikes and raids outside conventional battlefields.

The move requires the US military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to obtain permission to carry out attacks against terror suspects where there are American troops on the ground in countries like Somalia.

During President Trump’s administration, the decision to attack was left for those operating the drones. Some fear the easing of the drone strikes may facilitate the al-Shabaab to organize ground offensive like the one witnessed Saturday in the Lower Shabelle region.

Asamoah said the al-Shabaab still poses a real threat but he does not see the group carrying out more attacks.

“I anticipate the strikes may resume but probably operating from a distance. Still, that drone operation will still come back. Al-Shabaab may reorganize in the space it depends on when the strikes resume, but it does not appear to offer them so much space to be able to overwhelm AMISOM presence or the government presence.”