Somalia is now the sixth country over which the United States is flying attack drones. Last month, the same Special Operations Command unit currently operating in Yemen carried out an attack on two leaders of the Somali militant group al-Shabab in a June 23 mission. The Washington Post reported the attack on Wednesday, and on Friday, Somalia's defense minister says that American military forces touched down to collect the bodies of the insurgents. Al-Shabab has carried out attacks on the Somali government, and while the government is calling on more American drone missions, they say they were not aware of the first drone attack. "But we are not complaining about that. Absolutely not. We welcome it," Defense Minister Mohamoud Haji Faqi told the Associated Press. "We understand the U.S.'s need to quickly act on its intelligence on the ground."
Some are questioning the apparently hasty mission, however. Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project and a contributor to The Atlantic, warns that the United States may not accomplish much without a broader strategic framework in Somalia:
There is a very poor understanding of Somalia's politics, which almost by design results in poorly crafted policy. It's why libertarians continue to insist Somalia is some sort of anarchic paradise, rather than the chaotic, violent hellhole it is: they just don't know how or why the country functions the way it does. […]
What we do know, based on past experience both within Somalia and with U.S. foreign policy in a general sense, is that without a strategic framework in place to help guide, inspire, and constrain policy, we really shouldn't expect anything different from the last 20 years of anarchic violence there. Because we won't be working toward anything else.
Eugene Robinson, a columnist at The Washington Post points out that drone warfare in general has not been publicly discussed in the United States. And the particular nature of "these antiseptic missile attacks" is raising concerns around the world. In addition practical and legal questions, the ethical quandary could lead to more animosity against Americans, Robinson says:
Most troubling of all, perhaps, are the moral and philosophical questions. This is a program not of war but of assassination. Clearly, someone like Ayman al-Zawahiri--formerly Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command, now the leader of al-Qaeda--is a legitimate target. But what about others such as the Somali “militants” who may wish to do us harm but have not actually done so? Are we certain that they have the capability of mounting some kind of attack? Absent any overt act, is there a point at which antipathy toward the United States, even hatred, becomes a capital offense?
Of course, the most lasting memory of United States military involvement in Somalia is the botched "Black Hawk Down" mission in 1993, when 18 American soldiers were killed in the Somali capital Mogadishu. That lasting memory will likely turn the spotlight towards Somalia should the U.S. government continue to engage there.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.