More aggressive US strikes in Somalia said to risk civilians

President Donald Trump granted the US military more flexibility in conducting operations in Somalia on Wednesday, declaring the country a "war zone" and easing restrictions that protect civilians.

Trump's decision, which was made Wednesday but not immediately announced, allows US special operations forces to accompany Somali National Army troops and other African allies as they move closer to the fight, enabling them to call in offensive airstrikes quicker.

US troops will team with both the Somali military and the African Union Mission in Somali, a regional peacekeeping force that operates with United Nations approval. The two women were found guilty of the charge by a federal judge in October after an investigation showed they were part of a group of 15 women located around the world who met in a chat room created by Jama to organize monthly payments to al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group that has attacked targets in Somalia, as well as Kenya and Uganda. One of its worst attacks happened in 2010 when it bombed two World Cup viewing parties in Uganda, killing 74 people.

However, US defense officials have insisted that the changes would not result in a relaxing of procedures to prevent civilian casualties.

The expanded powers also will give greater autonomy in decision-making on air strikes to the head of U.S. forces in Africa, General Thomas Waldhauser.

"The additional support provided by this authority will deny al-Shabaab safe havens from which it could attack USA citizens or US interests in the region, " Davis said. The official told CNN the designated areas will not include the capital of Mogadishu or the area of Puntland.

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During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to stop embroiling the U.S. in costly foreign wars.

The decision comes after a year in which militants took some territory back from the Somali government, and as USA and Somali officials prepare for regional peacekeeping forces to begin withdrawing from the country next year. He said the USA was seeking a "fresh perspective" amid concern that some fighters have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, illustrating the danger of militants fleeing battlefields in Iraq and Syria for haven in Somalia.

Somalia is grappling with a devastating starvation that has uprooted citizens around the country.

Suspected Al-Shabaab militants on Thursday hijacked a Kenyan government vehicle in the border town of Elwak in Mandera country.

The official grade of certainty that civilians won't be killed has been lowered from "near certainty" to "reasonable certainty". Hundreds of US troops now rotate through makeshift bases in Somalia, the largest military presence since the United States pulled out of the country after the "Black Hawk Down" battle in 1993.

Trump's move would allow USA special forces to work directly with the Somali military, which has struggled for over a decade against the influence of Al-Shabab, an ultraconservative Sunni Muslim militant group linked to Al-Qaeda, the Associated Press reported. The Pentagon announced 13 ground raids and airstrikes in 2016, up from five in 2015, according to data compiled by New America, a Washington think tank.

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