Military officials said they believed this was the first U.S. combat casualty in Somalia since the “Black Hawk Down” battle.
Defense Department officials said the service member was in Somalia as part of an advise-and-assist mission alongside members of the Somali National Army. He was killed in an operation near Barii, around 40 miles west of Mogadishu, according to a statement from the U.S. Africa Command.
Separately, a Defense Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters regarding Special Operations forces, said that the service member killed was a Navy SEAL.
“We continue to support our Somali and regional partners to systematically dismantle this Qaida affiliate, and help them to achieve stability and security throughout the region as part of the global counterterrorism effort,” Africa Command said in the statement.
The death of a Navy SEAL in Somalia comes as the U.S. military’s campaign against al-Shabab in Somalia has been expanding over the last several years. That Islamist group is complex, with some factions focused on controlling Somalia, while others want to participate in external terrorist operations in line with al-Qaida’s global war.
In 2013, the group carried out the attack at the Westgate mall, in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed more than 60 people and wounded more than 175. Since then, it has adopted more sophisticated forms of terrorism, including nearly bringing down a Somali airliner in February with a bomb hidden in a laptop computer.
To counter al-Shabab, the United States has increasingly used Special Operations forces, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies. Hundreds of U.S. 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.
They have served as trainers and advisers to African Union and Somali government forces, and have sometimes participated directly in combat. Military officials said they believed this was the first U.S. combat casualty in Somalia since the “Black Hawk Down” battle.
About 200 to 300 U.S. Special Operations forces have been working with soldiers from Somalia and other African nations like Kenya and Uganda to carry out more than a half-dozen raids every month, according to senior U.S. military officials. The Navy’s classified SEAL Team 6 has been heavily involved in many of these operations.