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The Trump Administration Is Waging a Drone War in Somalia With Increased Air Strikes

“People need to pay attention to the fact that there is this massive war going on.”

For women like Halima Farah, a 56-year-old mother of six, returning to Somalia isn’t an option.

“It’s a suicide mission,” she told The Washington Post. That’s because the country, which lies on the Horn of Africa between Kenya and Ethiopia, has been the site of a three-decade war — and it’s only getting worse. She fled to a refugee camp in Kenya years ago to get away from conflict.

According to an article in The New York Times, the U.S. military has escalated a war against the Shabab, described as an extremist group with ties to Al Qaeda.

that the death toll resulting from unmanned drone strikes executed by the U.S. military in Somalia have reached a third record high in as many years. According to Defense Department data obtained by the Times, the air strikes pushed last year’s death toll to 326 people in 47 disclosed attacks. And this year, the war is reportedly on track to surpass those numbers, with 225 people killed during 24 disclosed strikes between January and February alone.

Human rights groups like the ACLU say civilians — including children — have been killed during the strikes over the years, including during Obama’s tenure. But the Post reported that it’s hard to quantify those claims since “so much of Somalia is inaccessible amid the fighting.”

Brittany Brown, chief of staff of the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit that focuses on decreasing deadly conflicts, described the war in Somalia as “on autopilot” to the Times. Brown also worked on Somalia policy at the National Security Council during both the Obama and Trump administrations.

“People need to pay attention to the fact that there is this massive war going on,” she told the Times.

In 2017, the White House approved a fighting expansion against the militants in Somalia. That approval removed the high-level vetting that was once required to approve strikes on the Shabab, according to the BBC.

“It’s very important and very helpful for us to have little more flexibility, a little bit more timeliness, in terms of decision-making process,” General Thomas D. Waldhauser said during a news conference. “It allows us to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion.”

Another change under the Trump administration meant the number of civilian deaths would go underreported. As noted by the BBC, Trump revoked a policy put in place by Barack Obama via a 2016 executive order that required the CIA, which has carried out drone strikes in countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia, to publish the number of civilians killed via the strikes outside war zones. The news outlet also noted that the order “does not overturn reporting requirements on civilian deaths set for the military by Congress.”

The Trump administration reportedly called the Obama executive order “superfluous” and distracting.

This by no means is the first U.S. presidential administration to carry out drone strikes. It’s not even the first administration to catch public heat for it.

As BBC News White House reporter Tara McKelvey noted, the Obama administration was also criticized for civilian deaths during strikes. But she says the problem has been exacerbated as the numbers are going up at an unprecedented pace.

“During Mr. Obama’s eight years in office, 1,878 drone strikes were carried out, according to researchers,” McKelvey wrote. “Since Mr. Trump was elected in 2016, there have been 2,243 drone strikes. The Republican president has also made some of the operations, the ones outside of war zones, more secretive. As a result, things [are] different today: Under Mr. Trump, there are more drone strikes — and less transparency.”

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