Saturday, April 4, 2020

U.S. signals possible airstrikes in Somalia by asking aid groups for their locations

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U.S. officials this week requested the geographic coordinates of aid groups working in Somalia, according to a document obtained by The Intercept — a move that could indicate an escalation of military action against the Shabab. The notice to NGOs comes a month after President Trump declared portions of the country an “area of active hostilities,” giving the military wider scope to launch strikes that could potentially kill more civilians.

“Due to the need for increased operational security in Somalia, and based on best practices in other complex emergencies, humanitarian and development organizations may want to provide information about their fixed locations in Somalia for deconfliction,” states the letter, written by USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and intended for “all international and local humanitarian and development organizations with operations in Somalia.” Aid groups have an extensive presence in Somalia, where the government declared a state of disaster in February due to crippling drought and food shortages.

The document, dated April 24, provides instructions for how groups should share coordinates of offices, hospitals, refugee camps, and other facilities. “Please be aware that all information submitted … will be used to inform U.S. military planners about the location of humanitarian and development personnel,” it says. It also includes a bold-type warning that providing the information does not “guarantee the safety of personnel, vehicles, facilities, or sites. Entities operating in this environment continue to do so at their own risk.”

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Such deconfliction efforts are not uncommon in the context of intense or prolonged U.S. military operations, such as Afghanistan. This week’s letter is similar in wording to one received by NGOs in 2014, at the outset of the anti-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria. In Yemen, the United States briefly shepherded NGO coordinates from nonprofits to the Saudi-led coalition at the start of its military campaign there in early 2015. The Obama administration also requested coordinates in Libya last year, when it similarly declared parts of the country areas of active hostilities.

But for Somalia, such an encompassing request is novel. Taken with Trump’s declaration of active hostilities, the note suggests that it’s a question not of if, but when, more airstrikes will take place.

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