Pentagon aims to expand fight in Somalia


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

The Pentagon wants to expand the military’s ability to battle al-Qaida-linked militants in Somalia, potentially putting U.S. forces closer to the fight against a stubborn extremist group that has plotted attacks against America, senior U.S. officials said.

The recommendations sent to the White House would allow U.S special operations forces to increase assistance to the Somali National Army in the struggle against al-Shabab militants in the fragile Horn of Africa nation, the officials said. They said the proposal would give the military greater flexibility to launch airstrikes against extremists that appear to be a threat.

Beefing up the military effort in Somalia fits with President Donald Trump’s broader request for a Pentagon plan to accelerate the U.S.-led battle against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and defeat other extremist groups, including al-Qaida and its affiliates. U.S. concerns about al-Shabab escalated in recent years as young Americans from Somali communities traveled to training camps in Somalia, raising fears they might return to the U.S. and conduct terror attacks.

Somalia was one of the seven predominantly Muslim countries included in Trump’s travel ban last month. The executive order has since been suspended by federal courts.

Somalia is “our most perplexing challenge,” Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the head of U.S. Africa Command, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The United States is “trying to take a look at Somalia from a fresh perspective in the way ahead,” he said, describing the need to weaken the decade-old al-Shabab insurgency so that the African nation’s military forces can defeat it.

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