New head of AFRICOM visits Somalia as pressure on al-Shabab increases
By Stephen Losey
Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the new commander of U.S. Africa Command, visited Somalia on Wednesday and pledged to continue pressuring violent extremists such as al-Shabab.
Townsend is now on his first trip to the African continent since he took charge of AFRICOM July 26. He met with Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre in the capital city of Mogadishu, as well as U.S. Ambassador Donald Yamamoto and senior Somali military leadership, AFRICOM said in a release.
AFRICOM said Townsend’s trip allowed him to assess the situation in Somalia, and reinforce AFRICOM’s commitments to the region’s security.
“I am committed to working together and advancing our partnership with Somalia,” Townsend said in the release. “Along with Somalia and other international partners, we will apply continued pressure on violent extremist organizations. This pressure creates conditions and opportunity for further political and economic development.”
Townsend said that Somali forces must keep pushing al-Shabab out of the remaining areas they hold to free Somali people living there, and that degrading the terrorist group’s threat supports the interests of both Somalia and the United States.
“We’re in the business of protecting our country from these threats,” Townsend said. “Degrading the capability of terrorists who operate here makes the entire region safer and prevents its export to other places. This is important work for our country, the Somalis and our allies.”
In a sign of how American involvement in Somalia is increasing, AFRICOM carried out as many airstrikes in the nation in the first seven months of 2019 as it did for the entirety of 2018. According to statistics from AFRICOM last month, the U.S. military carried out its 47th airstrike in Somalia on July 27 to target suspected Islamic State militants in the Golis Mountain region, which is a reputed terrorist hotbed.
The Air Force is ramping up its airstrikes in Somalia
Airstrikes are helping create opportunity for the Somali government’s efforts to reach citizens and develop their economy, AFRICOM said.
AFRICOM said Wednesday that the U.S. is coordinating its diplomacy and development efforts with military activity. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale also met with Khayre in Mogadishu earlier this week, and pledged to continue U.S. support for Somalia’s political reforms, economic development and stabilization.
“They agreed on the value of security operations to liberate areas from al-Shabab and preparing Somali forces to take over from the African Union Mission to Somalia,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in the release.
The Prime Minister added the partnership with the U.S. is key to reform and sustaining progress, according to the AFRICOM website.
“Through our strategic partnership and support with the U.S. government, Somalia has made tangible progress in security, reconciliation, and debt relief,” said Khaire, adding the two nations will continue to partner meaningfully in pursuit of their bilateral interests.
As part of its support, AFRICOM is training a Somali military force called the Danab, a specially-trained unit of the Somali Security Forces that focuses on fighting al-Shabab and ISIS-Somalia. Al Shabab is believed to have been responsible for an October 2017 truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed 500 people and a January attack on a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed more than 20 people. AFRICOM said that the al Qaida-connected al-Shabab “remains the largest and deadliest terror organization in East Africa” and the region’s “principle security challenge.”
Townsend met with U.S. units training the Danab, and praised the job they are doing.
“The United States of America offers the best security partnership and training in the world,” Townsend said. “We invest in our partners, dedicating the time, energy and commitment to make sure they are ready for any challenge.”