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First US soldier killed in Somalia since 'Black Hawk Down'

A US soldier has been killed in a special operations mission with Somali forces against al-Shabab. It is the first US military casualty in Somalia in 24 years as it steps up involvement in the country.

An American soldier was killed in a special operations mission against the Somali extremist group al-Shabab, the first US military casualty in the African country since the 1993 "Black Hawk Down" incident, the Pentagon said on Friday.

The death occurred during an "advise and assist" mission with the Somali army targeting the al-Qaeda affiliated militant group near Barii, approximately 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Mogadishu," US Africa Command said in a statement.

Two other US service members were also wounded. An unknown number of Somali army soldiers and al-Shabab militants were killed or wounded.

A small number of US special operations soldiers have been in Somalia for years. Regular drone and airstrikes also target al-Shabab. 

But the Trump administration has granted US military leaders greater flexibility to carry out attacks against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, raising the prospect of civilian and American military casualties.

A botched US Special Forces raid in Yemen against al-Qaeda in January left a US Navy Seal dead and three others wounded, while leaving several civilians and militants dead. 

The US recently deployed several dozen regular soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division to the mission in Somalia, adding to about 50 special operations soldiers in the country.

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said the mission was carried out "under the same authorities" in place since 2013, when President Barack Obama ordered special forces to support the young internationally backed government in Mogadishu.

Davis said that the Thursday night raid targeted a compound and militants linked to attacks on the United States, Somalia and African Union Mission in Somalia peacekeepers.

US helicopters transported Somali forces to the compound, in what Davis described as a "Somali mission." He said the US team was "a distance back" when it came under small arms fire.

Somalia descended into chaos in 1991 after longtime dictator Mohammad Siad Barre was overthrown by clan-based militias, who then fought each other for power. 

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Famine and war broadcast on American televisions put pressure on then President George H.W. Bush, who ordered US troops to help with humanitarian shipments.

The humanitarian operation was beset by "mission creep," with the United States getting involved both militarily and politically in the civil war.

The United States finally withdrew after two US Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by rebels in 1993, killing 18 soldiers, whose bodies were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Ensuing battles left hundreds of civilians and militia fighters dead.

Known often for civil war, starvation, piracy and terrorism, Somalia has long been the poster child of a failed state. But since 2012 the country has slowly begun to emerge from its darkest days, establishing a fragile internationally backed government.

Al-Shabab controls large swaths of territory and regularly carries out attacks on the military, civilians and some 20,000 African Union peacekeeping troops in the country supporting the government and helping secure the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Fighting, poor infrastructure and several years of drought in Somalia have left 6 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. The UN has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe and starvation in the country.

cw/bw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

 

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