Somalia conflict: US suffers rare combat loss in al-Shabab clash

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Al-Shabab fighters perform military drills at a village about 25km outside MogadishuImage source, AFP
Image caption,
Al-Shabab fighters perform military drills at a village about 25km outside Mogadishu in 2011

A member of the US military has been killed in Somalia, the first confirmed US combat death there since the 1993 disastrous Black Hawk Down incident.

This happened on Thursday during operations against al-Shabab militants about 64km (40 miles) west of the capital Mogadishu, near the town of Barii, the US military says.

Two other US service members were hurt.

US forces were on an "advise and assist" mission with the Somali National Army, the US military says.

American presidents have been wary of intervention in Somalia since 18 special forces soldiers died fighting militias in Mogadishu in 1993, a battle dramatised in the film Black Hawk Down.

However, President Donald Trump has expanded military action against the al-Qaeda affiliate in the Horn of Africa nation.

America's involvement: Analysis by Tomi Oladipo, BBC Africa security correspondent

The situation in Iraq made US boots on the ground abroad a touchy subject but this sensitivity is even worse when the foreign soil is in Somalia. Memories of the disastrous Black Hawk Down in 1993 are still vivid in Washington.

The preferred approach today is to enable local forces to provide their own security.

The US has been providing training and advice to Somalia's special forces. This elite local group is expected to lead the fight against al-Shabab militants. For now, some of their operations are carried out with their US advisers alongside.

The wider Somali National Army has also been receiving US support. Last month dozens of American troops arrived in the country to train them. The UK and Turkey are also playing a similar role in this larger and more challenging task of building a sustainable Somali army.

US Africa Command spokeswoman Robyn Mack said the American "service member" had been struck by small arms fire.

Two other members of the US military wounded in the same incident were receiving "proper medical attention", she added.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a US Navy Seal had been killed, Reuters news agency reports.

In Thursday's mission, US troops were hunting an al-Shabab commander near the Shabelle river, the news agency reports.

Media caption,

Black Hawk Down: The Somali battle that changed US policy in Africa

In March, Mr Trump approved a Pentagon plan to escalate operations against al-Shabab, including additional air strikes.

Last month, dozens of American soldiers were deployed to Mogadishu to train and equip Somali and African Union troops.

It is thought to be the first time US forces were sent to Somalia since 1995 - not including covert operations - though some counter-terrorism advisers were already there.

Analysts say the soldier killed on Thursday would not have been one of the soldiers recently sent to Somalia.