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Dugger writes: "Within expanded authority President Trump granted him last Wednesday, General Thomas David Waldhauser appears to have declared war on or in Somalia in the name of the United States by designating part of that African nation a war zone."

U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser. (photo: US Marine Corps)
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser. (photo: US Marine Corps)

Has a 4-Star General Declared War on Somalia?

By Ronnie Dugger, Reader Supported News

02 April 17


ithin expanded authority President Trump granted him last Wednesday, General Thomas David Waldhauser appears to have declared war on or in Somalia in the name of the United States by designating part of that African nation a war zone.

With our country now committing military attacks in many nations with which we are not constitutionally at war, Waldhauser’s declaring now that a certain area in southern Somalia is a war zone apparently both exposes and represents a new authority that Trump may have in effect passed on to the Pentagon and military officers.

A graduate of Bemidji State University in Northern Minnesota and a much-decorated combat veteran of three U.S. wars, Waldhauser is now the commander of the U.S. Africa Command, one of the nation’s six regional commands around the world.

The recent notable increase in civilian casualties (“collateral damage”) in U.S. raids in several conflicts, including about 150 civilian dead in Mosul on March 17, has caused some critical alarm that Trump’s presidency is to blame. The Trump White House and the U.S. military are contending there has been no change in the military’s “rules of engagement.” But Trump’s announced order giving the Pentagon and the military more autonomy in how they wage military attacks without his OK now raises the even larger question, has Trump given the military the power to declare wars on or in other nations in the name of the United States?

Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution says “Congress shall have power ... to declare war,” but Congress, many of its members politically ducking highly challengeable “yes” or “no” votes on starting wars, often, in flaring military situations, in fact cedes its constitutional war-declaring power to the president. Beginning in the 1930s, proposals to require a citizens’ referendum to declare war were proposed and failed. In 1973 Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution limiting the president’s war-making powers in literal U.S. self-defense to 60 days, after which he must go to Congress for approval.

The military’s expanded power in Somalia was revealed, not by Congress, but by Trump and then Lt. Gen. Waldhauser in an Associated Press story posted Friday in which the new war zone in Somalia and the topic of civilian casualties were all but buried. In defending his need for the new latitude, the general may have implied that he could if he wished declare “free fire zones” (zones where everybody can be killed, as in Vietnam) by explaining that he would not do that in Somalia.

In her story Lolita C. Baldor leads with the news that “Trump has granted the U.S. military more authority to go after al-Qaida-linked militants in Somalia, approving a Pentagon request to allow more aggressive airstrikes, officials said Thursday.... Trump’s decision ... allows U.S. special operations forces to accompany Somali National Army troops and other African allies as they move closer to the fight, enabling them to call in offensive airstrikes quicker.

“Portions of southern Somalia, excluding the capital Mogadishu, will be considered a warzone, officials said. That designation gives U.S. forces on the ground the authority to call in offensive airstrikes, rather than waiting for approval by higher level commanders.”

The Pentagon had asked for the greater authority last month. In Somalia, the story continued, “Al-Shabab has carried out deadly attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere.... Attacks on military bases in the past two years have slowed joint African Union-Somali offensives against the group....

“Waldhauser ... told members of Congress last week he wouldn’t turn Somalia into a ‘free fire zone.’ He dismissed suggestions the change could cause more civilian casualties.

“The new guidelines pertain to U.S. assistance of Somali and African Union troops, not unilateral American missions in the Horn of Africa country. About 50 U.S. commandos have been rotating in and out of Somalia to advise and assist local troops. That number could now increase slightly at certain times, said officials....”

The current population of Mogadishu is about 1,400,000. What are the military’s “rules of engagement” in a war zone, as compared with not in a war zone? If a 4-star general can declare a part of Somalia a war zone for the purposes of U.S. bombing, under Trump what rank must a U.S. military officer have to in effect declare war under its war zone rules on or in a country?

[Waldhauser became a 4-star general last July. An earlier version of this story was outdated on that point.]

Ronnie Dugger, author of presidential biographies of Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, other books, and many articles in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The Nation and other periodicals, received the George Polk career award in journalism in 2012. He lives in Austin. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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