By Henry Steck, International News Writer
The United States recently confirmed that a September 28 airstrike in Somalia led to the accidental deaths of 10 members of an allied local militia. The strike, in which the Pentagon attempted to target al-Shabab terrorists, was carried out in the area of Galkayo, Somalia.
Al-Shabab is an al-Qaeda aligned militant group which has been active in east Africa since 2006. It has also been active in Yemen.
The group emerged in Somalia in 2006, after breaking off of the Union of Islamic Courts which controlled the country at that time. While the group has been pushed from many of Somalia’s urban areas, losing control of the country’s capital of Mogadishu in 2011, it remains powerful in rural areas. Perhaps even more important was the group’s loss of the port city of Kismayo in 2012, which significantly reduced al-Shabab’s cash inflow. Kismayo remains a core piece of the region’s lucrative charcoal trade. The areas of Somalia still under the group’s control are subject to an extreme version of Sharia law. Here, limb amputation is the punishment for theft.
Al-Shabab forces are estimated to number around 9,000. The group has been able to draw fighters to its cause from abroad, including from the US and Europe, according to the BBC. It has also been linked to several other extremely powerful terror groups in Africa, including Boko Haram and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Although now marginalized to less densely populated parts of the Somalia, Al-Shabab regularly conducts acts of terror in the country’s urban centers, targeting schools, government buildings and hotels. Many of the attacks involve suicide bombing.
The African Union with US support, also aided by neighboring Ethiopia, continue to push the group back. The country has been at war for over 20 years, and still lacks a coherent, authoritative government.
The US military’s Africa Command said that the airstrike had been carried out by the request of Puntland Security Forces, who claimed that they had been attacked by al-Shabab militants. Puntland is a semi-autonomous region in the Somalia’s north, which supports the UN backed government in Mogadishu.
An Al-Shabab spokesperson told Reuters that the group did not have any forces located in the area at the time of the airstrike.
Further complicating the situation was the fact that those killed in the airstrike were members of neighboring Galmudug region’s security forces, who are rivals of Puntland. Galmudug accused Puntland of tricking the US in to believing its forces were those of al-Shabab. Washington has been struggling to effectively combat al-Shabab, unable to unify feuding Somali factions.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 22nd print edition.
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