“U.S. air strikes killed more than 100 militants in Somalia in January,” reported the Financial Times (FT) of February 10, 2019, “one of the deadliest months since Washington’s air offensive against Al Shabaab, the Islamist extremist group, began in 2007.”

The report notes that this is a “dramatic escalation” of attacks under Donald Trump and that the intensified “air offensive is part of one of Washington’s most active – and least discussed – military campaigns.”

The article does not specify drones as the attack weapons, but it is completely clear from the narrative that drones are at issue in that it compares Barack Obama’s drone policy based on selective killing of leaders to that of Trump’s generalized slaughter strategy.  Major Karl Wiest, a spokesman for the U.S. Africa Command (Africom), told the FT that the Trump policy targets personnel, fighting positions, infrastructure and equipment.  The article says that more than 500 fighters have been killed in the last two years.

This number is likely to be the grossest of underestimates, based on what we have seen in the government reporting of droning killing under Obama and the information blackout under Trump.

Oil, Again

The article does not mention that Washington’s keen interest in Somalia almost certainly is related to oil. 

Somalia’s seacoast on the Gulf of Aden borders a geographical choke point for shipping of all kinds, including being a key outlet to the West for Persian Gulf oil.

In addition, Exxon-Mobil, Shell and the British company Soma Oil and Gas are working to negotiate licenses for off-shore oil drilling on the Somali coast, according to a knowledgeable source, and several smaller companies are seeking oil licensing on Somali dry land. 

The source said that the amount of oil in Somalia appears to be “significant” although less than the size of Kuwait oil reserves, which according to Wikipedia represent 8% of the world’s oil reserves.  Wikipedia ranks Kuwait as having the sixth largest oil reserves in the world.

The primary obstacle to the development of the Somali oil potential is the conflict between Al Shabaab and the fragile central government, which is supported by the U.S. and which is evidently viewed as key in negotiating with states inside Somalia to set up a national framework for parceling out oil leases, as distinct from states negotiating their own contracts.

“International Armed Actors” Amid Suffering

A 2019 United Nations humanitarian needs report on Somalia finds that 30 percent of Somalis need some form of humanitarian assistance, and that of that group, 2.6 million are displaced within the country; 2.5 million of these are children under 18.  One million of these children are considered acutely malnourished.

The report notes:

“Military operations involving national and international armed actors, and non-state armed groups will potentially lead to a restrictive environment for humanitarian actors.”

The U.S. reportedly has over 500 troops in Somalia advising government forces and directly conducting war against Al Shabaab.  The British Army has 85 troops there, according to one report.

The U.S. is developing an air field at Camp Baedogle, perhaps for drones as well as conventional aircraft.

The situation has similarities to the war in Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, which was preceded by several years of U.S. drone and cruise missile attacks and covert special forces operations.  The drone attacks seem to be increasing the popularity of Al Shabaad, according to the FT report:

“The air strikes might slow them down,” said Hussein Sheijh-Ali, of the Hiraal Institue, a security study group, “but are not stopping or halting Shabaab.  In fact, they are getting bolder, in terms of influence they are expanding.”

The U.S. is known to be undertaking drone operations in, at least: Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Niger and Libya, in addition to Somalia.   In all these places, control and profit from oil, minerals and other resources are involved.