NAIROBI — When the Somali extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for this week’s 19-hour siege of a Nairobi complex that left at least 21 dead, it said the attack was “a response to the witless remarks of U.S. president, Donald Trump, and his declaration of al-Quds [Jerusalem] as the capital of Israel.”
Most of the victims of the attack were Kenyan, and the effects of trauma, tightened security and economic losses will also be mostly felt by Kenyans. But al-Shabab’s stated reason for the attack is a reminder that it comes amid an escalation in its battle for survival against a growing number of U.S. airstrikes, which are supported by Kenya.
The U.S. military’s unmanned drones, based in Somalia and neighboring countries, conducted 47 strikes in 2018, up from 31 in 2017, according to U.S. Africa Command. The most recent U.S. strike was Jan. 8, and several in December killed 62 al-Shabab fighters.
The Trump administration has loosened the U.S. military’s rules of engagement in Somalia, allowing it to preemptively strike militants that may not pose an immediate threat to Americans or their allies. More than 300 al-Shabab fighters were killed in last year’s strikes.