Generally speaking, less red tape and more definitive action by our government would be a welcomed change by a majority of Americans. However, if it meant innocent lives lost in less than certain situations that answer would be radically different. The Trump administration has been pushing an international policy agenda focused on increased militarization. Recently, President Trump approved the relaxation of targeting limits in counterterrorism strikes in Somalia that put civilians at risk of being causalities. Trump approved a similar removal of targeting limits in Yemen, which led to intense scrutiny for a botched special operation. This catastrophe in Yemen led to the death of a Navy SEAL, numerous civilian deaths, and loss of a $75 million aircraft.
This decision shows increasing U.S. attention on Somalia and the key role Somalia plays in achieving stability in the Horn of Africa and the broader Sahel and Middle Eastern regions. Many in Washington, on both sides of the political spectrum, criticized the Obama administration of indecision and lack of action in urgent international situations. However, the Obama administration focused on being very thorough in carrying out special operations and airstrikes in compromising situations and regions. Mr. Obama declared the Shabab militant group in Somalia as a Qaeda affiliate, which increased the executive branch’s authority to take direct military action against them.
Mr. Trump’s directive on Wednesday declared regions of Somalia as “area[s] of active hostilities” and that these relaxed rules would apply for at least 180 days. Gen. Thomas D. Walderhauser of the United States Africa Command expressed his support of the directive stating it provided them with greater flexibility and timeliness in the decision-making and prosecuting processes. Capt. Jeff Davis of the Pentagon expressed the Trump administrations commitment “to defeat Al Shabab in Somalia” as partners with the African Union and Somali forces. Despite the questionable tactics, this partnership and action in Africa is reassuring to many on the continent.
Capt. Davis also expressed that these efforts would secure direct U.S. interests in the area, although such interests are no longer requisites for actions take in these areas of Somalia under the new directive. The Obama administration created the Presidential Policy Guidance as the standard for proposed strikes in these situations. These guidelines required intense interagency vetting, proof of a threat to Americans, and near-certainty that no civilian bystanders would die. However, under the new directives no interagency vetting is required and strikes may be carried out if the targets are thought to be Shabab fighters without being identified as a specific threat to Americans.
These new rules are particularly problematic considering the current drought in Somalia, which has forced scores of Somalis to wander in search of water and food. There is the realistic possibility that these suffering civilians will become targets and causalities under the relaxed protocols and increased strikes. Greater action in the past has, however, aided in the success against operations against ISIS and other groups. The possibility of success remains, yet civilian causalities in Iraq and Syria have spiked in recent months. It would seem that urgency is needed, but quality control must be maintained. Until the U.S. can master a system that harnesses both there will be continual scrutiny and catastrophe.
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