A small team of U.S. military advisers is now operating in Somalia, the first time that U.S. military personnel have been deployed to that country since 1993. That was the year that 18 Americans were killed when two helicopters were shot down by Somali fighters in an incident that became infamous as "Blackhawk Down."
"The U.S. has established a military coordination cell in Somalia to provide planning and advisory support to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali security forces to increase their capabilities and promote peace and security throughout Somalia and the region," said Col. Tom Davis, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command.
The defense official said the small team of advisers are not combat troops but are serving in Mogadishu as planners, communicators and advisers between AMISOM and the Somali government.
Somalia's neighbors have contributed military forces to AMISOM since 2007 when they first arrived in Somalia as a peacekeeping force. However, beginning in 2010, AMISOM forces began waging a military campaign to overthrow al-Shabab, the Islamist terror group that had controlled Somalia.
A defense official says the coordination cell became fully operational in Mogadishu in mid-December and is staffed by "less than five" military personnel. The team members first began arriving in October to establish their office and living arrangements at the airport in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
Their presence resulted from a request in September made to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in September by the Somali government and AMISOM.
Since 1993, U.S. military personnel have not deployed to Somalia on long-term missions though Special Operations forces have conducted raids against al Shabab targets. Most recently in October, Navy SEALs launched an unsuccessful raid to snatch a high-ranking al Shabab militant. The U.S. military also flies Predator drones from neighboring Djibouti that on occasion have been used against al Shabab targets.
American military personnel have visited Mogadishu on day trips for coordination visits with AMISOM and the Somali government. Those visits required the approval by the U.S. ambassador to Kenya who has authority for Somalia, where there is no U.S. diplomatic mission.
The establishment of the coordination cell is open-ended and will be staffed by rotating personnel.