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US soldier killed in fight with Somalia's al Shabaab

AFP, HO, AMISOM | Somalia's fragile armed forces are dependent on foreign help to fight al Shabaab insurgents.

The US military said Friday a service member has been killed in Somalia during an operation against al Shabaab as President Donald Trump’s administration steps up its fight against the al Qaeda-linked militant group.

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A statement from the US Africa Command said the service member was killed Thursday during the operation near Barii, about 40 miles (64 kilometres) west of the capital, Mogadishu.

The statement said US forces were conducting an advise-and-assist mission with Somalia's military.

A Somali intelligence official confirmed the US military operation, saying US forces in helicopters raided an al Shabaab hideout near the Somali capital on Thursday night and engaged with fighters.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said the helicopters dropped soldiers near Dare Salaam village in an attempt to capture or kill extremists in the area.

The official said the fighters mounted a stiff resistance against the soldiers.

Trump’s new-found interventionism

Both the United States and Somalia in recent weeks have declared new efforts against al Shabaab.

Somalia's new Somali-American president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, last month declared a new offensive against the extremist group, which is based in Somalia but has claimed responsibility for major attacks elsewhere in East Africa.

In Washington, President Donald Trump has also approved expanded military operations against the militant group, including more aggressive air strikes and considering parts of southern Somalia areas of active hostilities.

His decision to step up the fight against al Shabaab has surprised analysts, coming on the heels of a presidential campaign during which the Republican candidate struck a markedly non-interventionist tone.

It marked the first significant deployment of US personnel in the war-torn country since two helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu and bodies of Americans were dragged through the streets in 1993, prompting horror in the US and leading to the withdrawal of all American peacekeepers.

New threat from IS group

Al Shabaab, which was chased out of Mogadishu years ago but continues to carry out deadly attacks there, has vowed to step up the violence in response to Trump’s move.

Pressure is growing on Somalia's military to assume full security for the country as the 22,000-strong African Union multinational force that has been supporting the fragile central government plans to leave by the end of 2020.

The US military has acknowledged the problem. The AU force will begin withdrawing in 2018, and the head of the US Africa Command, Commander General Thomas Waldhauser, has said that if it leaves before Somalia's security forces are capable, "large portions of Somalia are at risk of returning to al Shabaab control".

Walhauser also warned that a premature exit by the AU force could allow the Islamic State (IS) group to “gain a stronger foothold" in the country.

Fighters linked to the IS group are a relatively new and growing challenge in the north of the country, which has seen a quarter-century of chaos since dictator Siad Barre fell in 1991.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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