The United States launched a record number of airstrikes in Yemen and Somalia in 2017, and more importantly has reinitiated the targeting of terrorists in Pakistan and Libya. The pattern of operations in 2017 in what the Obama administration used to call areas “outside of active hostilities” (or active war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria) indicated that the US will continue the reinvigorated air campaign in these theaters in the coming years.
The increased targeting of jihadists in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya provides proof that the Obama administration strategy to defeat terrorist groups in these countries with airpower and limited support to local governments has failed. The US has targeted Shabaab in Yemen since 2007 and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula since 2009, yet both of these al Qaeda branches maintain a robust insurgency and continue to control territory to this day.
FDD’s Long War Journal tracked airstrikes in Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and Pakistan from publicly available press releases and inquiries with the relevant combatant commands as well as from press reports. Strikes in areas of active hostilities, in which the United States is directly engaged, such as Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, are not included.
Based 2017 data, the Trump administration appears to be conducting a more muscular version of President Obama’s targeted counterterrorism strategy. The Trump administration has loosened rules of engagement and has restored many decision making authorities to the military. Nearly one year after Trump ramped up the targeting of al Qaeda and the Islamic State, both group maintain potent insurgencies.