Somalia conflict: US suffers rare combat loss in al-Shabab clash

Al-Shabab fighters perform military drills at a village about 25km outside MogadishuImage copyright
AFP

Image caption

Al-Shabab fighters perform military drills at a village about 25km outside Mogadishu in 2011

A US soldier has been killed in Somalia, the first confirmed US combat death there since the disastrous Black Hawk Down incident in 1993.

The soldier died on Thursday during operations against al-Shabab militants about 40 miles (64km) west of the capital Mogadishu, near the town of Barii, the US military says.

Two other US servicemen were injured.

US forces were on an “advise and assist” mission with the Somali National Army, the US military said.

President Donald Trump has expanded military action against the al-Qaeda affiliate in the Horn of Africa nation.

“On 4 May, one US service member was killed during an operation against al-Shabab near Barii,” US Africa Command said in a statement on Friday.

“US forces were conducting an advise and assist mission alongside members of the Somali National Army,” it added.

Analysis by Tomi Oladipo, BBC Africa security correspondent

The situation in Iraq made US boots on the ground abroad a touchy subject but this sensitivity is even worse when the foreign soil is in Somalia.

Memories of the disastrous Black Hawk Down in 1993 are still vivid in Washington.

The preferred approach today is to enable local forces to provide their own security.

The US has been providing training and advice to Somalia’s special forces. This elite local group is expected to lead the fight against al-Shabab militants. For now, some of their operations are carried out with their US advisers alongside.

The wider Somali National Army has also been receiving US support. Last month dozens of American troops arrived in the country to train them. The UK and Turkey are also playing a similar role in this larger and more challenging task of building a sustainable Somali army.

US Africa Command spokeswoman Robyn Mack said that the American soldier was struck by small arms fire.

She added that another two soldiers were wounded in the same incident and “they are both receiving proper medical attention”.

In Thursday’s mission, US troops were hunting an al-Shabab commander near the Shabelle river, Reuters news agency reports.

Media captionBlack Hawk Down: The Somali battle that changed US policy in Africa

American presidents have been wary of intervention in Somalia since 18 special forces died fighting militias in Mogadishu in 1993.

But in March, Mr Trump approved a Pentagon plan to escalate operations against al-Shabab, including additional air strikes.

Last month, dozens of American soldiers were deployed to Mogadishu to train and equip Somali and African Union troops.

It was the first time regular US troops had been sent to Somalia since 1994, though some counter-terrorism advisers were already there.

Analysts say the soldier killed on Thursday would not have been one of the soldiers recently sent to Somalia.

Somalia conflict: US suffers rare combat loss in al-Shabab clash

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