The U.S. has deployed a small team of military advisors to Somalia in the first stationing of U.S. troops on the ground in the Horn of Africa state since the "Black Hawk Down" operation in 1993, Pentagon officials said Friday.
The team of five troops called the "Mogadishu Coordination Cell" has been in Somalia since mid-December to advise the 18,000 African Union troops propping up the struggling central government against Al Shabab insurgents, the officials said.
A Pentagon official with knowledge of the deployment declined to say whether the cell was made up of Special Operations Forces or how long they would stay in Somalia.
The Somalia deployment was the latest in a series of stepped up activities by the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) since Army Gen. David Rodriguez took command last year.
U.S. forces are currently aiding French troops in Mali and the Central African Republic with supply flights, aerial refueling and drone reconnaissance. AFRICOM has also evacuated Americans from strife-torn South Sudan and sent 45 troops to protect the U.S. Embassy in Juba, which has now been reduced to the ambassador and two staffers, according to the State Department.
On Friday, the military in neighboring Kenya stated that its air forces had hit a guerilla compound in southern Somalia, killing an estimated 30 Al Shabab militants, the Associated Press reported. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, last September in which 67 people were killed.
Since 2007, the U.S. has spent more than $500 million to train and equip the African Union force in Somalia, according to the State Department. An additional $170 million in U.S. funding has been spent to build up the Somali army.
Special Operations Forces operating out of Djibouti have conducted raids to rescue hostages and kill or capture suspected militants in Somalia, but U.S. troops have not remained in Somalia since the disastrous Black Hawk Down incident.
Last October marked the 20th anniversary of the Black Hawk Down operation -- two days of street battles in Mogadishu involving U.S. Army Rangers and commandos from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, known as "Delta Force."
During a successful mission to capture lieutenants of Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed, hundreds of Somali gunmen engaged the U.S. teams and killed 18 soldiers, wounded 73 others and shot down two Army Black Hawk choppers.
The incidents were the subject of the book "Black Hawk Down" by Mark Bowden and later the movie of the same name by Ridley Scott.