One U.S. special operations soldier was killed and
four U.S. service members wounded in an “enemy attack” Friday in
Somalia, the U.S. military said — casualties that are likely to put
renewed scrutiny on America’s counterterror operations in Africa.
It’s the first public announcement of a U.S. military
combat death on the continent since four U.S. service members were
killed in a militant ambush in the west African nation of Niger in
U.S. Africa Command said in a statement that U.S.
troops with Somali and Kenyan forces came under mortar and small-arms
fire in Jubaland, Somalia, at around 2.45 p.m. local time.
One member of the “partner forces” was wounded. One
of the wounded U.S. service members received sufficient medical care in
the field, and the other three were medically evacuated for additional
The statement did not identify the attackers but said
a larger force of about 800 Somali and Kenyan troops were conducting a
multi-day operation against al-Shabab militants about 350 kilometers
(217 miles) southwest of the capital, Mogadishu, when the attack
occurred. The operation aimed to clear the Somalia-based extremist group
al-Shabab from contested areas. The U.S. provided advice, assistance
and aerial surveillance during the mission, the statement said.
Al-Shabab claimed credit for the attack, the SITE Intelligence Group said in a statement Friday.
The U.S. has about 1,000 special operations personnel
in Africa. The last killing of a U.S. service member in Somalia was in
May 2017 during an operation about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of
The U.S. had pulled out of the Horn of Africa nation
after 1993, when two helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu and bodies
of Americans were dragged through the streets.
But President Donald Trump in early 2017 approved
expanded military operations against al-Shabab, leading to an increase
in U.S. military personnel to more than 500 and the launch of dozens of
drone strikes. Al-Shabab has been blamed for the October truck bombing
in Mogadishu that killed more than 500 people.
Al-Shabab, linked to al-Qaida, seeks to establish an
Islamic state in Somalia. It was pushed out of Mogadishu in recent years
but continues to control rural areas in the south and central regions.
Its fighters continue to attack the bases of a multinational African
Union force that remains largely responsible for security as Somalia’s
fragile central government tries to recover from decades of chaos.
The U.S. military and others have expressed concern
about the 21,000-strong AU force’s plan to withdraw by 2020 and hand
over security responsibilities to Somali forces, saying the local troops
are not ready.
Late last year U.S. drone strikes also began
targeting a small presence of fighters linked to the Islamic State group
in Somalia’s north.
Somali officials have said civilians have been killed
in more than one joint U.S. military operation with Somali forces.
Earlier Friday, the U.S. Africa Command issued a statement in response
to allegations that civilians had been killed in a May 9 operation,
saying a “thorough review” found the allegations to be “not credible.”
The October attack in Niger raised questions in
Washington about the U.S. military presence across Africa as the Trump
administration focuses counterterror efforts on a range of groups linked
to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.
A Pentagon investigation into the Niger attack, parts
of which were made public last month, found multiple failures but none
that directly caused the ambush by Islamic State group-linked fighters.
The investigation has already triggered changes in
the way military activities are carried out in Niger and elsewhere in
Africa, including giving teams the option to use heavily armored
vehicles and beefed-up firepower.