MOGADISHU—On August 29, U.S. forces carried out their 21st confirmed air strike in Somalia this year. The short U.S. Africa Command (Africom) press release announcing the strike on al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda–linked insurgency that has sought to implement a hard-line Islamic state in Somalia, resembled those that had come before it: It did not specify the kind of aircraft used, the exact location of the strike, or the identities of those killed. As with past press statements, this one also claimed that no civilians had been killed or injured in the strike.
Though America’s drone war in Somalia has been shrouded in secrecy, in the past year and a half the number of American air strikes in Somalia have notably increased. According to multiple foreign analysts, Somali officials, and several al-Shabaab defectors, these strikes have become one of the most effective tools in confronting the group. The air campaign has hindered al-Shabaab’s ability to communicate, sown widespread mistrust among its members, and restricted its leaders’ mobility.
The noticeable uptick in strikes in Somalia came after President Donald Trump approved policy changes ending the limitation on drone strikes imposed by the Obama administration. In March 2017, Trump designated parts of Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” temporarily bringing them under less restrictive targeting rules. By September of last year, his administration had reportedly approved new targeting rules for drone strikes called “Principles, Standards, and Procedures,” which dismantled several Barack Obama–era restrictions. As the Pentagon’s freedom to carry out drone strikes in Somalia has expanded, so too has the CIA’s authorities to conduct drone warfare in North Africa. According to a report from The New York Times published over the weekend, the CIA is set to conduct secret drone strikes in North Africa from a newly expanded base in the Sahara and with authorities once scaled back under the Obama administration.