Foreign Relations & International Law Terrorism & Extremism

DOD Airstrike in Somalia: Still Wondering About the PPG's Application

Robert Chesney
Wednesday, June 1, 2016, 3:33 PM

DOD has announced an airstrike on an al Shabaab official in Somalia:

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DOD has announced an airstrike on an al Shabaab official in Somalia:

Abdullahi Haji Da'ud, a senior military commander for al-Shabaab. Da'ud was one of al-Shabaab's most senior military planners and served as a principal coordinator of al-Shabaab's militia attacks in Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda. He held several positions of authority within the terrorist organization over the years, including head of the Amniyat, al-Shabaab's Security and Intelligence Branch.

There are no other details of note provided, so it is very hard to tell how this strike relates to the PPG (presidential policy guidance) on use of force outside areas of active hostilities. This question arises with each airstrike in Somalia, since (so far as the public record indicates) Somalia is considered by the Obama administration to be outside an area of active hostilities. As noted here in connection with the Raso Camp aistrike in March, the big questions under this heading are how a given strike in Somalia relates to the PPG requirements that the target pose (i) an imminent danger (the answer requires understanding that "imminent" means "continuous" in this setting) and (ii) that the danger pertain to U.S. persons (as opposed to, say, AFRICOM forces or local civilians). It is not hard to imagine how an important al Shabaab operational figure such as Da'ud might be argued to satisfy these standards, but it is important to appreciate what this in turn tells you about the flexibility of those standards, too (remember, the point of the PPG is supposed to be that it superimposes (as a matter of policy discretion) an array of constraints that limit resort to force to a meaningful degree as compared to what the government claims is permitted as a legal matter under LOAC).

Robert (Bobby) Chesney is the Dean of the University of Texas School of Law, where he also holds the James A. Baker III Chair in the Rule of Law and World Affairs at UT. He is known internationally for his scholarship relating both to cybersecurity and national security. He is a co-founder of Lawfare, the nation’s leading online source for analysis of national security legal issues, and he co-hosts the popular show The National Security Law Podcast.

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