The country’s top national security officials are recommending that President Donald Trump ramp up operations against an al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, two US defense officials told CNN Friday.
Trump has not yet approved the proposal, according to one official, but the other official said that the stepped-up operations were due to begin soon. The move could lead to an increase in airstrikes and more US personnel engaging in advising local forces.
The National Security Council Principals Committee’s proposal would grant the US military more authority to conduct operations against the terror group al Shabaab in the East African country, according to the officials.
One defense official described the proposal, reviewed earlier in the week, as allowing Africa Command Commander Gen. Thomas Waldhauser to authorize airstrikes in Somalia but not Special Operations Forces raids without receiving White House approval.
A spokesman for the White House’s NSC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“It’s very important and very helpful for us to have (a) little more flexibility, a little bit more timeliness, in terms of decision-making process,” Waldhauser told reporters at the Pentagon Friday when asked about the new Somalia-related authorities.
“It allows to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion. So that obviously is something that we advocate for … if we were given that opportunity, given out those permissions and authorities will be very helpful to us,” he said, while adding that “the White House has not approved anything on this yet.”
Previous strikes have been permitted without prior authorization from the White House only when US Special Operations Forces on the ground were in danger, and otherwise have been approved only on a case-by-case basis.
“We’ve persistently seen al Shabaab’s ability to train and marshal large groups of individuals for attacks in addition to fairly consistent attacks inside Mogadishu,” a separate defense official told reporters Thursday, referring to the group as al Qaeda’s third-largest affiliate.
“It’s important that we stay after al Shabaab,” Waldhauser said, noting that the newly elected Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, a dual US-Somali citizen, spurred a renewed focus on improving US-Somalia collaboration.