A group of experts is concerned that Trump’s directive to designate some parts of Somalia as war zones could encourage Islamic terrorists in the area to make new recruits, thus boosting the risk of civilian casualties.
The problem is the collateral damages,
Said Roland Marchal, a member of France-based National Center for Scientific Research, who is also an expert on Somalia.
Trump Authorizes More Airstrikes in Somalia
On Wednesday, the U.S. president signed off on a directive authorizing the U.S. Military to perform airstrikes against objectives held by the al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia.
The U.S. Defense Department thus hopes to come to Somali security forces’ and the African Union Mission’s (AMISOM) aid in Somalia in their efforts to drive the al-Shabab out of the country. AMISOM is a continental block backed by the United Nations.
According to the Pentagon, AMISOM has successfully recaptured land from al-Shabab. So, they are confident the U.S. military campaign will increase pressure on the terrorist group. The final goal is to deny the group all safe havens in the area from which Islamic militants can attack U.S. civilians or U.S. bases in the region.
Under the new directive, the southern parts of the country are tagged as “active area[s] of hostilities” for four months. The U.S.’ active combat zones include Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, some parts of Yemen and Libya, and recently Somalia.
Civilian Causalities Could Fuel Terrorist Recruitment in the Region
In these zones, the U.S. jet fighters are authorized to conduct airstrikes if there is “a reasonable certainty” there will be no civilian casualties. Four years ago, President Obama approved a “near certainty” standard which requests the military targets to represent a direct threat to Americans.
The Pentagon underlined that under Trump’s directive, the U.S. forces wouldn’t be able to decide alone on the appropriateness of air strikes against specific targets. The U.S. military will still have to consult AMISOM and the Somali government first.
Marchal noted that a decision that decision made in haste could boost the risk of killing many civilians who are not part of the terrorist organization.
The fact that you kill people will push them to get closer to al-Shabab, to side with al-Shabab and to take revenge,
The expert said.
U.S. Africa Command’s General Thomas Waldhauser said earlier this month that he and his men needed more flexibility in making such decisions. He added that the new directive is very helpful to the operations in Africa.
Prof. Ken Menkhaus at the Davidson College in North Carolina agrees that killing Somali civilians would just drive more recruits to the terrorist group. In 2016, the Defense Department authorized airstrikes in the region without the need of undergoing the vetting process set in place by Obama in 2013. As a result, U.S. jet fighters performed airstrikes in Somalia even when no Americans were at risk. Since the former administration eased the rules last year, the number of U.S. airstrikes in the region have skyrocketed.
The new Trump directive on Somalia could have an adverse impact on Somalia, experts say, because a drought has plagued the country, war, and famine for many years and any mistakes could send the wrong message to local people who could retaliate by joining al-Shabab’s ranks. As of now there have been any reported collaterial deaths.