The head of U.S. forces in Africa told reporters on Friday that greater authority to fight al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants in Somalia would lead to more flexibility and quicker targeting, but that a decision had not yet been made by the White House.
Al Shabaab has been able to carry out deadly bombings despite losing most of its territory to African Union peacekeepers supporting the Somali government.
The group’s insurgency aims to drive out the peacekeepers, topple Somalia’s western-backed government and impose its strict version of Islam on the Horn of Africa state.
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who was sworn in as Somalia’s leader last month, has promised al Shabaab’s fighters “a good life” if they surrender.
The United States has a small presence in Somalia and is allowed to carry out strikes in defense of partnered forces.
“Regardless of what combatant commander was sitting here this afternoon, I think they would all tell you that it is very important and very helpful for us to have a little bit more flexibility, a little bit more timeliness in terms of decision-making process and … it will allow us to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion,” Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, the top U.S. military commander overseeing troops in Africa, said at a press conference.
Waldhauser also said there was no need to “sound the alarm” about a potential resurgence of piracy off Somalia’s coast after pirates seized a small oil tanker, the first such incident since 2012.
” It is too early to say that now we have an epidemic, but it did catch our attention,” Waldhauser said.
On Friday, pirates seized control of a Somali fishing boat to use as a base from which to attack larger ships.
In their heyday in 2011, Somali pirates launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia, data from the International Maritime Bureau showed, and held hundreds of hostages.
But attacks fell as shipping firms tightened security measures, such as posting lookouts, blocking easy entry points to the ship with barbed wire and installing secure panic rooms with communication equipment, known as “citadels”.