US sends regular troops to Somalia for first time since Black Hawk Down

Rob Crilly
Somali government soldiers run to take their positions during gunfire after a suicide bomb attack outside Nasahablood hotel  - Feisal Omar/Reuters

US regular troops are returning to Somalia for the first time since 1993 when 18 special forces died fighting militias in Mogadishu, a battle dramatised in the film Black Hawk Down

A US military spokeswoman yesterday(SAT) said several dozen soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division would train and equip Somalia’s army to better fight al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda linked extremist group.

She offered no further details.

“For operational security issues, we will not discuss specifics of military efforts nor speculate on potential future activities or operations,” she said.

Last month Donald Trump signed off on a Pentagon plan to step up operations against al-Shabaab, including additional air strikes, as part of an effort to give his commanders more autonomy in fighting wars around the world.

Deploying troops to Somalia is the latest sign of a more interventionist approach from a candidate who used the election campaign to criticise his predecessors for becoming bogged down in foreign wars.

So far he has ordered a missile strike on Syria, entered into a stand-off with North Korea over its nuclear programme and his military deployed the biggest bomb ever used in combat to destroy caves used by a local branch of Isil in Afghanistan.

Somalia, riven by war since 1991, offers a huge challenge.

A fragile government relies on international backing and the security of a 22,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force.

Although al-Shabaab has lost ground ever since being forced out of Mogadishu in 2011, fighters are still able to launch attacks almost at will.

American security officials fear they also offer an international threat.

Last year the group claimed responsibility for an attempt to blow up an airliner taking off from Mogadishu airport with a bomb concealed in a laptop. The blast punched a one-metre hole in the fuselage and killed the bomber but the plane was able to land safely.

Several countries, including the UK and Turkey, are helping train Somali security forces.

Although a handful of US advisers and special forces teams were already on the ground, previous administrations have been reluctant to venture further into a country remembered as the scene of one of its worst recent military disasters.

Catastrophe struck when US special forces launched a raid to capture lieutenants of a feared warlord.

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