The Pentagon has acknowledged that the United States recently sent a team of military advisers to war-torn Somalia, to help Somali and other African forces fight the al-Shabab opposition group. This is risky business.
The team, which the Pentagon characterized as “small,” is tasked with providing communications, logistics and planning help. Its installation in Mogadishu — where a climate of car and suicide bombings, widespread fighting, and tenuous government authority has prevailed since 1991 — represents the first U.S. boots on the ground in Somalia since the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” killing of American servicemen. That incident led to the withdrawal of U.S. troops who had been in the northeast African nation since the previous year.
President Obama’s decision to deploy U.S. forces is consistent with continuing American involvement in Somalia through a Central Intelligence Agency presence, raids by Special Operations forces, fighter-bomber strikes, drone attacks, and training and financing provided to Somali, Kenyan, and other African fighters who have sought unsuccessfully to impose order.
This is also a chapter in the quest for relevance pursued by the U.S. Africa Command, created by the George W. Bush administration in 2008. By showing that it is needed, it can better protect itself from Pentagon budget cuts.
If Kenya and other East African nations want to counter al-Shabab, they should put in sufficient forces of their own. The fate of the factions that desire to rule Somalia in place of al-Shabab is not a compelling national interest of the United States. There is nothing here worth risking American lives or money.