A key U.S. partner in the fight against terrorism is growing increasingly uneasy about the Biden administration’s new guidance on the use of drones and airstrikes, concerned that the changes are giving an already emboldened al-Qaida affiliate more room to operate.Since U.S. President Joe Biden took office January 20, the United States has not launched a single airstrike against al-Shabab in Somalia, after seven strikes were conducted  from January 1 to 19.Senior Somali military officials worry the new guidance, which has imposed tighter controls on ordering airstrikes and requires the White House to sign off on operations, means al-Shabab will begin to gather momentum.US Airstrikes in Somalia“Lack of strikes mean al-Shabab leaders will come out of hiding,” a senior Somali military commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the issue publicly, told VOA’s Somali Service.“They will bring their battle wagons out. They will mount big guns on top of vehicles again. They will start to gather in large numbers again,” he said. “It will be detrimental not only to the security of Somalia but to the region if al-Shabab were given freedom to move around.”Grave threatU.S. defense and intelligence officials have long considered the Somalia-based al-Shabab one of the gravest threats emanating from Africa, targeting the group with 53 airstrikes in 2020 and  63 airstrikes in 2019.The impact, though, has been debatable.Recent U.S. intelligence estimates indicate al-Shabab commands as many as 10,000 fighters across Somalia and parts of Kenya. And despite consistent counterterrorism pressure, officials concluded by the latter half of 2020 that the group was starting to show it was operating without fear.“The terrorist threat in East Africa is not degraded,” the U.S. Department of Defense inspector general warned in a November report. “Al-Shabab retains freedom of movement in many parts of southern Somalia and has demonstrated an ability and intent to attack outside of the country, including targeting U.S. interests.”, are part of a larger review of the existing “legal and policy frameworks” governing such actions.“The purpose of the interim guidance is to ensure the president has full visibility on proposed significant actions,” according to National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne. She said it would be “premature to anticipate” when the review would conclude.Review understoodCurrent and former Somali security officials indicate they understand the new administration’s reasoning for the review. They just fear that the interim guidance is putting them and the U.S. at a disadvantage.“Of course, the operations should be conducted with the utmost care and should protect civilians,” Gaid said. “But the reality is, the group [al-Shabab] needs to be on the defensive and should not have freedom of movement and operations, and that’s what the airstrikes helped with.”The extent to which those concerns have made it up the Somali chain of command and have been communicated to U.S. officials is unclear.In a statement on civilian casualties Friday, U.S. Africa Command acknowledged Somali defense officials have said airstrikes are a critical part of the effort against al-Shabab.“The Somali National Army fully supports U.S. Africa Command’s efforts to degrade al-Shabab through kinetic airstrikes,” the statement quoted Somali Chief of Defense Forces Brigadier General Odawa Yusuf Raage as telling U.S. officials at a recent meeting.“These strikes are a key part in our fight against an enemy that has shown no hesitation in terrorizing innocent Somali citizens through repression, extortion and murder,” Raage said.US Troops to Withdraw From Somalia Amid Ongoing Terror ThreatSenior US military spokesman says terror threat remains but ‘is contained’And that came after the Defense Department inspector general raised concerns that Somalia’s security forces were not yet ready to take the lead in the effort to contain al-Shabab.#Somalia reliant on #Danab Brigrade units for majority – 80% – of counter #alShabaab ops@StateDept tells @DoD_IG Danab performing relatively well but progress hurt by “inadequate troop generation, normal attrition, and combat losses”— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) November 25, 2020Somalia’s security forces “continue to rely on international support,” the inspector general warned in November. “Al-Shabab is not degraded to the point where Somali security forces can contain its threat independently.”VOA’s Somali Service contributed to this report. 

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