The head of U.S. Africa Command (Africom) on Thursday said that U.S. airstrikes against al-Shabaab fighters in Somalia are not enough to defeat the al Qaeda-affiliated militant group, and that local forces need to “step up.”
“At the end of the day, these strikes are not going to defeat al-Shabaab,” Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told lawmakers during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
“But they are going to provide the opportunity for the federal government and the Somali National Army to grow and assume the security of that country.”
Airstrikes against al-Shabaab in Somalia have significantly increased under President Trump. About 47 were conducted last year, killing 323 militants, according to Africom. That was up from 35 strikes in 2017.
So far in 2019, 12 strikes have killed about 118 militants.
Waldhauser said that the strikes “are causing problems” for and “deterring” al-Shabaab, but that it is “an open question as to how much.”
“The bottom line is that the Somali National Army needs to grow, it needs to step up, and it needs to take responsibility for their own security.”
The Pentagon for years has focused on combatting terrorist groups in Somalia, where approximately 500 U.S. personnel are based, including troops, civilians and contractors.
But the Defense Department announced in November that it will cut the number of U.S. troops deployed to Africa in counterterrorism missions by the hundreds – about 10 percent of the 7,200 military forces serving in Africom.
And in January the department announced that it plans to curb its military role in Somalia and lessen airstrikes in the region. Instead, U.S. forces will focus on so-called great power competitions with Russia and China, who seek to gain more of an influence on the continent.
Waldhauser said the Russians “want to have influence on the continent,” and do so by increasing arms sales to numerous countries and provide military training.
China, meanwhile, operates a military base in Djibouti, just miles away from America’s main military base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier.