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Hundreds of newly trained Shabaab fighters perform military exercises in the Lafofe area some 18Km south of Mogadishu on Thursday Feb. 17, 2011.

Obama just expanded the war against al-Qaeda to include a terrorist group in Somalia

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The Obama administration now considers al-Shabaab, a terrorist group in Somalia, a target in the ongoing battle to hunt down the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks.

That means when he takes office, President-elect Donald Trump will have much more authority to fight Islamists in the nation, The New York Times reports. Initially, the war was against Al Qaeda -- al-Shabaab didn't even exist at the time. But the administration has expanded the terms of the war authorization to allow airstrikes in other nations and against other entities.

The changes over time

In 2014, President Obama said the 2001 law allowed military force against ISIS.

In June, the Obama administration allowed airstrikes to "achieve strategic effects," rather than only in self-defense, targeting al-Qaeda or ISIS or to "prevent a strategic defeat" in Afghanistan.

The military has since worked around 2013 rules against airstrikes far from "active hostilities"  by calling some airstrikes "self-defense." 

al shabaab.jpg
In this Monday Oct. 5 2009 photo newly trained Al-Shabaab fighters patrol a street in Mogadishu, Somalia. Al-Shabaab which is a powerful insurgent group is engaging a fight against the Somalia government, and the African Union peace keepers. Problems including corrupt officials and a lack of supplies have delayed Somalia's military offensive against Islamic insurgents, but even before the first shot has been fired new warnings have emerged that blood may be spilled for little or no gain. (AP Photo/Mohamed Sheikh Nor)

What is al-Shabaab?

It's a terrorist group that started in 2007 after Ethiopia invaded Somalia to overthrow an Islamist council. 

What's the justification for lumping al-Shabaab in with al-Qaeda?

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, to count as an "associated force" with al-Qaeda, a group must be organized, armed and aligned with al-Qaeda. 

For years, officials debated whether or not to include al-Shabaab as an associated force. 

It's crazy that a piece of legislation that was grounded specifically in the experience of 9/11 is now being repurposed... in Somalia.
Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Relations

Critics thought the move reached beyond the bounds of the initial legislation's intent.

A 'real tension'


But others, like Luke Hartig, former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council, saw a "real tension":

"We ask countries to go into the fight against our counterterrorism adversaries, but we have a stated policy of not using force... unless they pose a continuing and imminent threat to Americans," he told the Times.

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