The U.S. military has stationed a small unit in Mogadishu since last fall, despite a public policy that has shied away from placing ground forces in Somalia since the much-publicized "Black Hawk Down" incident.
A cell of U.S. troops, numbering fewer than two dozen, has helped advise and coordinate operations with African troops while operating out of a base in the Somali capital. The Washington Post first reported the story Friday afternoon.
For a long period, American troops haven't spent more than a few hours or a night in Somalia, a defense official tells U.S. News. This newly unveiled unit – known as a military coordination cell, or MCC – began preparing for its mission in October and deployed to Somalia in December. Members chiefly support the African Union Mission in Somalia and Somali security forces, and do not themselves carry out any direct-action missions.
"Their mission is just to facilitate communication, not go out and pull any triggers," the official says.
Somalia is considered a failed state, with large portions controlled by Islamic extremist groups operating on an increasingly broader scale. Somalia-based al-Shabab, which recently was endorsed by core members of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, reportedly conducted the attack on an upscale mall in Kenya in September.
The U.S. approach to quelling and containing violence in Somalia has been limited since the early 1990s to special operations raids, as well as aerial surveillance and strikes. Task Force Ranger in 1993 led an assault to capture lieutenants of a high-profile warlord, but the operation went awry when two helicopters were shot down. U.S. forces withdrew shortly afterward from the country.
A former member of the elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group, commonly known by its Hollywood title SEAL Team 6, told U.S. News in November he had operated in Somalia in 2005, 2008 and 2010. A raid by the elite group last October failed to capture the elusive al-Shabab leader known as Ikrima.
A U.S. drone base in Djibouti occasionally launches strike or surveillance missions over Somalia. It also has functioned as a base for launching commando raids.
The CIA also has a permanent base in Somalia that serves to finance local forces and perform other quiet activities, reports the Post, which has more details on the military unit unveiled Friday.