Why is the U.S. Continuing to Engage Somalia? | Opinion

Four years ago, we lost a man dearly important to us. Four years ago, Alex Conrad was killed in action in Somalia.

Before Alex left, he assured his family it was going to be a short deployment, but he was excited to again earn combat pay. Alex knew what he was getting into; knew that the U.S. Army's role in advising and assisting in Somalia would likely include combat. The question none of us seem to have a clear answer to is, "Why?"

SSG Alex Conrad
SSG Alex Conrad is pictured. Photo Courtesy of Christie Palcisko

The United States has been at war for a long time. We operated in Somalia in the 1990s, shifted focus to Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, expanded the "war on terror" to Iraq in 2003, and far beyond Iraq in the years since. Somalia has once again become a place where American troops go to fight and sacrifice, though there is little understanding of what they are doing there.

U.S. foreign policy has succumbed to mission creep, demanding long and repeated deployments to faraway places to accomplish goals that are vague at best. Congress doesn't vote on these military engagements, and effectively leaves the decisions to unelected Pentagon officials with no accountability to the American people.

As the Afghanistan Papers revealed, a mission can spin out of control behind the scenes all while the Department of Defense hides behind slogans and false reassurances that everything is going well.

This has cost our country trillions of dollars and thousands of irreplaceable American lives. We are just two of the millions of folks who feel the impact of bad foreign policy.

The solution, to put it bluntly, is Congress should do its job.

Our country's overreliance on endless war and Congress' refusal to put an end to it is irresponsible and wrong. America is blessed to have men and women who serve selflessly in our defense, ready to sacrifice everything to preserve and defend our freedom. And it should stand to reason that our congressional leaders could muster enough courage to put even some skin in the game by voting on military engagement and repealing outdated authorizations for military action.

Headstones with American flags are seen
Headstones with American flags are seen at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 2022, in Arlington, Va. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

After all, members can be found at Memorial Day parades, academy graduations, military funerals, and Veterans Service Organization (VSO) events, so they should also be found on the House or Senate floor voting on the operations they rightfully praise our military for completing.

Carefully and specifically authorizing military action either by declaration of war or specific and limited Authorizations for Use of Military Force is one of Congress' most important roles that it is regularly ignoring. For instance, our operations in Somalia were never voted on by Congress. Old, outdated authorizations for military action have been used to justify engagement around the world, including strikes in Somalia against Al-Shabaab who didn't even exist when the cited authorizations were voted on. Keeping obsolete, overbroad authorizations on the books has allowed presidents to abuse them and send American men and women into harm's way without congressional consent, subverting a vital pillar of our Constitution.

The recently announced troop surge into Somalia demonstrates a new level of disconnection between Congress and its duties. Overshadowed by tens of billions of our taxpayer dollars flowing into Ukraine, this troop redeployment to Somalia to battle Al-Shabaab puts American lives in danger, though it's not clear how that mission makes us safer here at home. Congress must take responsibility for wartime decisions. Our lawmakers should repeal outdated military engagement authorizations and change the way they handle military authorizations in the future, ending our seemingly endless entanglement not connected to vital national interests. When a real threat presents itself, that is the time for Congress to authorize actions. If the conflict in Somalia poses an actual risk to our national security, Congress should be able to publicly articulate and defend those risks, then pass a precise authorization detailing the enemy, operations, and conditions of success.

We both lost our brother to war in Somalia. The least Congress could do is thoroughly debate and vote on where, when, and most importantly, why we should send our friends and family to fight and potentially die in these endless conflicts.

Christie Palcisko is an attorney and Gold Star sibling to SSG Alex Conrad who was killed in action in Somalia in 2018.

Sam Rogers is a veteran of the United States Army and the war in Afghanistan who served with SSG Conrad. He is the strategic director for Concerned Veterans for America in Wisconsin.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.