Pentagon gets OK for more aggressive airstrikes in Somalia

US officials say President Donald Trump has given the USA military greater authority to go after al-Qaida linked militants in Somalia.

Parts of Somalia have been declared areas of "active hostilities" under a directive Trump signed Wednesday, the New York Times reported.

But because Somalia was not considered an active war zone, proposed strikes needed high-level, interagency vetting.

It required interagency vetting, that the target had to pose a direct threat to the USA, and that assuredness that civilians would not be killed in any strike.

Somalia's crisis deepened with the rise of Al-Qaeda offshoot Al-Shabab, prompting a renewed USA military intervention through special operations units and drone strikes.

Trump has made the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and affiliated extremist groups one of the priorities of his administration.

Some in long-chaotic Somalia, where access to independent information is extremely challenging, could see this as a chance to spread misinformation, said Laetitia Bader, a Somalia researcher for Human Rights Watch.

A British military officer with recent experience in East Africa told The Independent that the change in restrictions does not put civilians in any more danger that what exists now.

The United States' campaign against al-Shabab in Somalia has been expanding over the last several years.

Court documents said the two, originally from Somalia, sent money to financiers of al Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya.

Until now the US military had only been able to employ airstrikes against al Shabaab militants in self-defense situations when African Union or Somali government troops accompanied by USA advisers came under attack. Since then, it has adopted more sophisticated forms of terrorism, including almost bringing down a Somali airliner in February with a bomb hidden in a laptop computer.

The Times report does note that the usa military's involvement in Somalia initially grew under Obama's command. They have served as trainers and advisers to African Union and Somali government forces, and have sometimes participated directly in combat.

And as The Times reported in November, the Obama administration - after years of internal debate - chose to designate al-Shabab an "associated force" of al-Qaida.

The official said that the new authority will be legally based on the 2001 authorisation for use of military force due to the terror group's affiliation to al-Qaeda.

Trump's decision, which was made Wednesday but not immediately announced, allows USA special operations forces to accompany Somali National Army troops and other African allies as they move closer to the fight, enabling them to call in offensive airstrikes quicker. The Navy's classified SEAL Team 6 has been heavily involved in many of these operations. Those strikes killed about 25 civilians and 200 people suspected of being militants, the group found.

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