A few days ago, Paul McCleary at Foreign Policy reported on U.S. airstrikes against al Shabaab, undertaken in defense of AMISOM forces. McCleary asked, “Is there a new U.S. airstrike policy in East Africa?” My question is, “Is there a new legal theory supporting U.S. airstrikes against al Shabaab?” The answer is that there must be, though it is not obvious which of several possible theories the United States is relying on.

According to McCleary (and the Pentagon spokesperson he quotes), the United States has been bombarding al Shabaab targets for a week. AMISOM states that the U.S. strikes all sought to defend AMISOM forces in the face of imminent threats of attack. The DOD spokesperson noted that this is a shift from the “pinprick” attacks against al Shabaab’s leaders that the United States previously undertook.

Ashley S. Deeks, Defending Broadened U.S. Strikes Against al Shabaab?, Lawfare (July 29, 2015).