U.S. "unnamed officials" confirmed to Reuters on Thursday that over a hundred military troops have been operating covertly in Somalia since 2007.
The mission, according to the government's narrative, is to help Somalia fend off attacks from the al-Qaeda linked terrorist group al Shabab, which has been fighting the country's UN-backed government for years.
The confirmation, however, was received skeptically by some who have monitored U.S. military operations in Somalia in recent years. As independent journalist Marcy Wheeler tweeted in response to the reporting:
The CIA has been known to operate on the ground in the country for years and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that drone strikes and other covert operations by the U.S. have killed dozens of Somali citizens, although it says the numbers may be higher than reported.
Not long after September 11, the military also set up camp in a base in Djibouti, and has used its proximity to the Horn of Africa to conduct drone missions in Somali and neighboring countries. The drone strikes are part of the U.S. global war on terror that critics have called endless and borderless.
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It is unclear how strong of an effect the years-long mission has had. In addition to recent high-profile attacks in Kenya, al Shabab also claimed responsibility for an assault on two Somali members of parliament Thursday morning. Armed gunmen opened fire on a vehicle, killing veteran MP Mohamed Mohamud and injuring MP Abdullah Ahmed. The group also killed and injured four MPs in April.
Earlier this year, the U.S. announced that it had sent a small group of trainers and advisers to Somalia in October 2013 to help coordinate the country's fight against al Shabab. The January announcement was seen as the first time the U.S. had sent personnel to Somalia since 1993, when two military helicopters were shot down and 18 American troops were killed in the infamous "Black Hawk Down" incident.
But now it appears that the U.S. has been secretly operating in Somalia for years, with 120 troops having entered the country "around 2007," according to the defense official who spoke to Reuters.
Plans for the mission include a stronger military engagement and new funds and training for the Somali National Army. The U.S. has long helped fund the SNA and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a regional peacekeeping group launched in part to fight al Shabab.
The State Department's Wendy Sherman mentioned in June that a "small contingent of U.S. military personnel" had been in Somalia for several years, but did not provide details on the nature of their involvement.
The U.S. troops are joined also by military forces from the European Union, who entered Somalia late last year.