Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Somalia: Why is the US in combat?

Advise, Assist, Train, yes, and, Find, Target and Destroy!

By Ed Marek, editor

December 17, 2018

So what is the plan?

The Government of Somalia lacks the resources to defeat al-Shabaab, and AMISOM is intent on withdrawing and packing up. Al-Shabaab is gaining strength.

The Council on Foreign Relations article, "Planning for a US Military Recessional From Africa," by John Campbell, published on September 7, 2018, said:

"According to U.S. media, the Pentagon plan to withdraw nearly all American Special Forces from West Africa is accelerating.
The New York Times, citing Pentagon officials, reports that if approved by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the United States would close military outposts in Tunisia, Cameroon, Libya, and Kenya, and end the operations of seven of eight counterterrorism units operating in Africa. If these plans are approved by the Secretary of Defense, there would remain a 'robust' military presence only in Somalia and Nigeria."

Over the past years the US has been quietly and gradually increasing its military presence in Somalia. I cannot in this report enumerate all the places US forces have operated within Somalia in one way or another. I do want to highlight one, however.

So let's move to the US buildup at an old Soviet air base in southern Somalia.

The base is named Camp Baledogle (Bale Dogle). It is about eight miles northwest of the town of Wanla Weyn in Lower Shabelle Region and 55 miles northwest of Mogadishu. Jeffrey Bartholet, in a report "A Return to Somalia" published by Newsweek on October 31, 1999 said while making a trip through Somalia in 1999 his aircraft had to land at this airfield because the weather was bad at Mogadishu. He met a human rights researcher who said, "It's very precarious here now. This is a very strategic place."

The Air Combat Element (ACE) of Marine Forces Somalia used Baledogle from December 16, 1992 through February 25, 1993, after which they moved to the Mogadishu Airport. The Marine Aircraft Group 16 Headquarters, Marine Light Helicopter Squadron 369 (HMLA-369) AH-1 Cobra Gunships, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 (HMH-363) CH-53 Sea Stallion transports, HMH-466 CH-53 Sea Stallion transports, a Marine munitions and support squadron were all located there. The photo shows Marine helicopters parked at Baledogle in 1993.

US Black Hawk helicopters were positioned at the airfield in 1993. US Army forces from the 2/87th Infantry also worked out of Baledogle in 1993 secure nearby areas of importance.

You will recall from the US Policy Review Section that the first of what would be about 25,000 US forces began to arrive in Somalia on December 9, 1992 in response to the Somali famine. The Battle of Mogadishu occurred on October 3-4, 1993.

The airfield has long been a good forward operating base. Al-Shabaab and the government and its allies have battled over it back and forth for years. AMISOM and Somalia forces secured the town and the airfield in October 2012. For the US, the base has important strategic value. The US can project air power from it in many directions.

Jane's 360 said, "Also known as Wanlaweyn Airport, the Baledogle runway is 3.2 km (10,500 ft.) long and was built for the Somali military in the 1970s when it was supported by the Soviet Union. It is currently used by the African Union Mission in Somalia’s (AMISOM’s) Aerostar unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) surveillance unit."

RT News reported on July 3, 2015 that the base is being used for drone strikes and for contractors training Somali security forces. The photo shows Ambassador Francisco Caetano Jose Madeira, the AU's Special Representatives for Somalia (in the suit), being briefed on February 26, 2018 on the Aeronautics Aerostar Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) donated to AMISOM. AMISOM received three. The photo was taken at Camp Baledogle. Aeronautics Aerostar has an endurance of up to 12 hours, a range of 250 km, a maximum speed of 110 kt, and can carry a payload of up to 50 kg.

An undisclosed number of US military people have been at the base helping out with the UAV. Martha Leah Nangalama, a Ugandan educated in Toronto who among other things writes about things-Africa, authored "US military build up indicates war is only getting bigger" and provided useful insights into the US buildup at Baledogle, called "B-dog" by the Americans. Her report is dated May 3, 2018.

Construction workers at the base told Nangalama that work on the base began in June 2017. She said an AFRICOM representative confirmed Somalia "has the third-largest concentration of U.S. DoD personnel on the continent, after Djibouti and Niger." She said the US was building facilities to support 800 beds and that American aircraft were coming in and out of the base daily. She also said "Baledogle’s expansion is one part of what appears to be a massive U.S. military infrastructure development project in the Horn of Africa country that will see at least six new U.S. outposts built this year, according to multiple defense contractors. I commend her article to you and another by Nick Turse, "
The US military moves deeper in Africa."

Mikael Lindvail, Sweden's Permanent Representative to the European Union Peace and Security Committee, based in Brussels, and former Ambassador of Sweden to Somalia, visited Baledogle on January 26, 2017. He provided these next two photos of facilities there, having
posted them on Twitter. I have not talked much about the EU. But it is the largest donor to Somalia and has invested heavily in the country's stability and reconstruction. It is however throttling back on its financial support, which in turn as adversely affected AMISOM. Based on research I have seen, the EU is mightily involved in Somalia.

The top photo seems to show large hangars and/or maintenance facilities while the bottom photo shows the old control tower.

The Shabelle Media Network has posted this next photo which is quite interesting. Its report, "
US Shadow War in Somalia Getting Bigger," is dated May 5, 2018:

It appears to me that the old control tower is being converted to be a hangar.

This photo shows two USMC CH-46 Seaknight helicopters on an unpaved surface with a group of Marines disembarking.

Reports indicate Somali Danab commandos serve here as part of their training. This group is shown at its graduation ceremony at Baledogle on March 20, 2016. I believe the man dressed in civilian clothes off to the right was one of their trainers, perhaps a contracted trainer.

US drone attacks have been very important in curtailing al-Shabaab operations. All air attacks added up together from wherever they were based: the statistics reflect the US conducting 35 air attacks against al-Shabaab in 2017. A
BBC report of December 17, 2018 says the US conducted four air attacks in Somalia killed 32 militants on December 15, 2018 and another two attacks killed another 28 on December 16, 2018. That report said the US has conducted 40 such air attacks in Somalia in 2017.

BBC reported further:

"Somalia-based security think tank the Hiraal Institute said in a report published in November that al-Shabab had been forced to change tactics following the upsurge in air strikes. The institute said the group was now conducting fewer mass attacks on military bases, but attacks on government offices and businesses which refused to pay it taxes had increased markedly."

Somalia’s leadership has welcomed US forces and is especially grateful for the drone attacks. A problem the leadership cites, however, is that people on the ground are needed to help reconcile the people and build institutions as well as fight against the insurgents. The leadership is anxious that not enough is being done on these requirements.

A dominant problem within Somalia is corruption. GAN, a company that helps companies mitigate against corporate risk, issued a “Somalia Corruption Report” that says, among many other things:

“Somalia ranks among the world’s most corrupt countries … Corrupt government officials tolerate illegal activities in return for bribes. Dysfunctional institutions facilitate an environment of lawlessness, and the absence of any form of regulatory framework hinders prospects of economic competitiveness. Business is based on patronage networks, and tight monopolies dominate the market. Somalia’s Provisional Constitution criminalizes several forms of corruption (including abuse of office, embezzlement and bribery); however, implementation is non-existent. The governing elite is continuously involved in allegations of embezzlement of public funds from the already meager Somalian coffers. Finally, bribery is commonplace in all sectors, and procurement contracts frequently involve corruption.”

AMISOM leaders met in Nairobi in November 2018 and decided to develop a plan to start withdrawing from Somalia by end of February 2019. The plan is to withdraw 1,000 troops at that time. Previously, there were 22,126 AMISOM troops in Somalia. The UNSC instructed AMISOM to reduce to 21,626 and prepare for a full withdrawal in 2020. Some 1,040 troops withdrew in December 2017. Another batch was to withdraw in October 2018 but the massive explosion in Mogadishu killing over 500 people delayed that.

Kenya and Uganda are not enthusiastic about leaving in February. They want to be sure the country has stabilized. Estimates are the Somali army will not be ready until at least 2022. One issue as always is financing. The EU has reduced its contribution of $200 million by 20 percent. The EU had been the major funding source.

Al-Shabaab immediately took the offensive and grabbed two towns in Lower Shabelle. The militants began stepping their attacks in 2017.

So the problem now facing the UN and AU members is what to do as AMISOM withdraws.

On balance, it would appear the US will continue military operations in Somalia. AFRICOM has gotten more aggressive there. Most or all of those operations will probably be conducted by US special forces.

The Washington Post has said:

“On March 29, President Trump granted wider scope to launch U.S. military operations by designating Somalia an ‘area of active hostilities’ where war-zone targeting rules will apply for at least 180 days.”

The Atlantic reported on September 11, 2018:

"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 (2017), his administration had reportedly approved new targeting rules for drone strikes called 'Principles, Standards, and Procedures,' which dismantled several Barack Obama–era restrictions."

The net effect has been a loosening in combat restrictions. Designating areas as “areas of activity hostilities” has resulted in increased US supported raids. The idea of the authorization was to prevent al-Shabaab from moving about freely.

However, a difficulty is no matter what friendly forces do, they have not been able to hold on to vast amounts of territory in Somalia. Furthermore, there are questions about how Somalis outside of Mogadishu see the government. Indications are the government is not popular with them. There is also evidence the government has not been able to reconcile with the clans.

The New York Times reported on December 10, 2017 the Pentagon sees at least two more years of combat against Islamist militants in Somalia. At that time, Pentagon officials indicated they would wait until about 2020 before reviewing how their plan is doing. On the surface, it would appear this means continued training, continued special operations forces actions, and continued drone and fighter attacks. That said, US officials are concerned about corruption with the way money is being spent by the Somali military.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton presented an important foreign policy speech to the Heritage Foundation on December 13, 2018. He said his purpose was to unveil the Trump administration's new Africa Strategy. He said:

"Under our new approach, every decision we make, every policy we pursue, and every dollar of aid we spend will further U.S. priorities in the region. In particular, the strategy addresses three core U.S. interests on the continent:"

  • Advance US trade and commercial ties
  • Counter the threat from Radical Islamic Terrorism
  • Ensure taxpayer dollar are used effectively and efficiently.

Bolton said:

"Great power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa. They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States."

He added:

"And soon, Djibouti may hand over control of the Doraleh Container Terminal, a strategically-located shipping port on the Red Sea, to Chinese state-owned enterprises. Should this occur, the balance of power in the Horn of Africa—astride major arteries of maritime trade between Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia—would shift in favor of China. And, our U.S. military personnel at Camp Lemonnier, could face even further challenges in their efforts to protect the American people …

"Across the continent, Russia advances its political and economic relationships with little regard for the rule of law or accountable and transparent governance. It continues to sell arms and energy in exchange for votes at the United Nations—votes that keep strongmen in power, undermine peace and security, and run counter to the best interests of the African people. Russia also continues to extract natural resources from the region for its own benefit."

I commend his speech to your attention. He provided considerable important information for planning and envisioning US policies on the African continent. It is presented on the internet by the White House.

General Waldhauser was confronted by the question of being at war in Africa by Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) in a March 2018 hearing before the House Armed Services Committee. O'Rourke asked:

“Functionally, I would argue that we are at war in Somalia, is that an accurate reading of the situation there?”

General Waldhauser responded this way:

"Congressman, I would say it’s an accurate reading. I wouldn't characterize that we’re at war. It’s specifically designed for us not to own that.”

I will end my report here. That is, unless you have the wherewithal to go to the
Postcript Section. I'm not sure I will ever finish it, but you are welcome to read and help me decipher if you can:

Two fallen special forces
The threats presented by Somalia
US policy review
Regional players enter the scene - The birth of AMISOM
AFRICOM: Under the radar
Maritime security - Efforts to secure the waterways
So what is the plan?
Postscript: "The Compound"