The White House has granted the U.S. military broader authority to carry out strikes in Somalia against al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militants, the Pentagon said on Thursday, the latest sign President Donald Trump is increasing U.S. military engagement in the region.
Last Friday, the head of U.S. forces in Africa said that greater ability to fight the militants would lead to more flexibility and quicker targeting.
Al-Shabab has been able to carry out deadly bombings despite losing most of its territory to African Union peacekeepers supporting the Somali government. The United States has a small presence in Somalia and is allowed to carry out strikes in defense of partnered forces.
Two U.S. defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said parts of Somalia had been declared an "area of active hostilities" for at least 180 days by the White House on Wednesday night. The capital of Mogadishu was not included.
This broader authority would allow the United States to carry out offensive strikes against al-Shabab militants even if the militants were not attacking partnered forces, the officials said. They said rules to avoid civilian casualties would not be loosened.
The decision mirrors one the White House made in January when it declared parts of three provinces in Yemen an "area of active hostilities," allowing the military greater flexibility to target al Qaeda militants there.
In recent months, the United States has carried out more than 40 strikes against al-Qaida militants in Yemen, which lies just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. As many as 12 civilians, some of them women and children, were killed along with a U.S. commando in a January raid in southern Yemen. The United States has said that raid gathered valuable intelligence.