On Thursday, a member of a Navy SEAL team was killed in an operation against the Somali militant group al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate, at a location 40 miles west of Mogadishu. The servicemember may have been the first American to die in combat in Somalia since 1993, when casualties from the well-publicized "Black Hawk Down" incident prompted President Bill Clinton to pull U.S. troops out of the country.
Reports from specialist defense media suggest that two other SEALs and one interpreter were injured in the incident. The raid may have involved SEAL Team 6, which has a prominent role in counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa.
Over the past few years, the U.S. military has rebuilt its presence in Somalia in the form of train-and-assist missions for African Union and Somali government troops. Publicly, this support includes aerial surveillance and drone strikes; sources suggest that it also includes the regular involvement of U.S. special forces in covert raids.
al Shabaab ("The Youth" or "Mujahideen Youth Movement") is a designated terrorist organization with ties to Al Qaeda. It opposes Somalia's internationally recognized government, and while it has lost control of most of its territory since the launch of a Somali / African Union offensive in 2011, it continues to execute terrorist attacks – like the 2013 raid on a mall in Nairobi and the attempted bombing of a Somali airliner last year.
Anecdotal reports suggest that al Shabaab has had a complex relationship with Somali piracy over the years, at times fighting with "un-Islamic" pirate networks, at others demanding a cut from pirates' ransom proceeds or trading hostages. It still exerts an influence in most rural areas south of Puntland, and routinely extorts money from businesses and aid groups to support its operations.