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US to boost Somali military operation against al Shabaab

Tuesday February 28, 2017

A file photo of KDF soldiers taking cover during an operation in Somalia. /FILE
A file photo of KDF soldiers taking cover during an operation in Somalia. /FILE

Pentagon wants to expand its military in a bid to fight terror groups linked to al Qaeda, particularly al Shabaab which is wrecking havoc in Somalia.

The US Department of Defence wants to put its forces closer to the fight against al Shabaab to avert attacks that may be planned against America.

This follows concerns that many young Americans from Somali communities traveled to training camps in Somalia therefore likely to attack the US.

Thomas Waldhauser, head of US Africa Command, in an interview with the Associated Press described Somalia as 'the most perplexing challenge'.

"The US is trying to take a look at Somalia from a fresh perspective in the way ahead," he said as reported in the New York Post - a US media outlet.

In the recommendations, US special operations forces will increase assistance to the Somali National Army in the struggle against the militants.

It will also allow the US military a greater flexibility to launch airstrikes against the militia in the region.

Other officials privy to the plan said there is a proposal to have US troops accompany local soldiers on military operations.

The proposal is also to ease restrictions on when the United States can conduct air strikes targeting al Shabaab hideouts.

The militant group has been fighting for years to impose its strict interpretation of Islam on Somalia and also wants to topple the Western-backed government in Mogadishu.

They also want to drive out soldiers from Kenya, Djibouti, Uganda, Ethiopia among other African states deployed under Amisom.

There are also concerns that the plan could be politically sensitive, following the disastrous downing of two US helicopters over Mogadishu in 1993 that claimed 18 lives.

According to the New York Post, the military will be able to launch air strikes against militants on a more pre-emptive basis if the proposal goes through.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who approved the recommendations, is said to have sent the plan to the White House early February.

Waldhauser said the US sees an opportunity to work with Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed - Somalia’s new president, to strengthen local soldiers so that they can take on al Shabaab on their own.

And to bolster the efforts, US President Donald Trump will seek to boost Pentagon spending by $54 billion (Sh5.58 trillion) in his first budget proposal.

"Trump will also seek to cut the same amount from non-defense spending, including a large reduction in foreign aid," a White House budget official said on Monday.

"Trump will let the Department of Defense decide how to spend the extra billions and most federal agencies will see reductions in funding," an official from the Office of Management and Budget told reporters.

The official said Trump's first budget will not address taxes or mandatory spending.



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