By Craig Whitlock, Friday, January 10, 2014
The U.S. military has deployed a small number of uniformed trainers and advisers to the failed state of Somalia for the first time since 1993, when two helicopters were shot down and 18 Americans were killed in the failed “Black Hawk Down” operation.
A cell of U.S. military personnel has been stationed in the Somali capital of Mogadishu since last fall to advise and coordinate operations with African troops fighting to wrest control of the country from the al-Shabab militia, an Islamist group whose leaders have professed loyalty to al-Qaeda, according to three U.S. military officials.
The previously undisclosed deployment — of fewer than two-dozen troops — reverses two decades of U.S. policy that effectively prohibited military “boots on the ground” in Somalia. Even as Somali pirates and terrorists emerged as the top security threat in the region, successive presidential administrations and the Pentagon shied away from sending troops there for fear of a repeat of the Black Hawk Down debacle.
In recent years, the Obama administration has slowly and cautiously become more directly involved in Somalia.
Drones from a U.S. base in Djibouti — a neighboring Horn of Africa country — conduct surveillance missions and occasional airstrikes from Somalia’s skies. Elite Special Operations forces have also set foot on Somali territory on rare occasions to carry out counter-terrorism raids and hostage rescues, but only in the shadows and for no more than a few hours at a time.
In January 2013, the United States officially recognized a new federal government of Somalia, re-establishing diplomatic relations for the first time since the country’s political structure collapsed in 1991. The State Department has not re-opened an embassy in Mogadishu but U.S. diplomats often make brief trips to the capital.
The CIA has quietly operated a base in Somalia for years and finances Somali security forces, but largely keeps its activities there under wraps.