Four wounded U.S. Green Berets in Somalia were evacuated to Kenya to be treated for their injuries, the Pentagon said Saturday following an attack by the Al-Shabab extremist group that killed another member of the unit.
The U.S. Army Green Beret was killed in an attack in southwestern Somalia on Friday by the Al Qaeda affiliate. The assault also left one member of African forces working alongside the American troops injured.
A large group of around 800 soldiers from the Somali National Security Forces and the Kenyan Defense Force were working to clear territory under Al Shabab control and build a permanent combat outpost in Jubaland, about 218 miles southwest of the capital of Mogadishu, when they came under small arms and mortar fire, according to a press release from U.S. Africa Command.
“The U.S. provided advice, assistance and aerial surveillance during the mission,” AFRICOM said in the statement.
Somali forces will operate the combat outpost near the town of Kismayo once the multi-day operation is complete, according to The Daily Beast.
Al Shabab claimed responsibility for what it called a “fierce attack” on the joint U.S.-Somali base, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist groups online.
The attack was first reported by The New York Times, which identified the soldier who was killed only as a member of U.S. Special Operations. The Daily Beast subsequently reported that the soldier was a Green Beret assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group, out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The Pentagon has not released the deceased’s name, pending notice to the family.
In late 2016, the outgoing Obama administration extended a post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force to the fight against Al Shabab. Four months later, President Donald Trump signed an order declaring parts of Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” which allows commanders to authorize strikes without stringent vetting.
Those moves opened the door to more aggressive use of air strikes and Special Operations raids in Somalia. In the months since, the Trump administration has dramatically increased the number of strikes, raising concerns about civilian casualties that could erode popular support and undermine the U.S. counterterrorism mission.
The Pentagon currently has about 500 Special Operations troops in Somalia. They’re part of a 12-year-old U.S. mission to support Somali and African Union efforts against Al Shabab and a local ISIS affiliate. They’re part of about 1,200 U.S. troops on the continent and some 7,300 Special Operations troops deployed to 92 countries worldwide, according to The New York Times.
That could change soon. Last week, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon is considering slashing the number of Special Operations troops in Africa by about 50 percent over the next three years as the U.S. national defense strategy shifts away from small-scale counterterrorism operations to great-power competitions with nations like Russia and China.
“In light of the National Defense Strategy’s updated priorities, the Joint Staff consistently reviews plans, operations and military investments across the globe to develop the best options that address the constantly evolving threat to U.S. national interests,” Defense Department spokesperson Maj. Sheryll Klinkel told The New York Times in a statement.