MOGADISHU, Somalia—If it weren’t for the shot that killed Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken, villagers in Daarasalaam, Somalia, might not have noticed anything amiss that night in May. For hours earlier, Milliken and his team had moved silently through the town, leaving boot prints that sank into the wet gray clay, and at least five dead bodies in their wake. Only when an Al Shabaab militant, concealed beneath the low-hanging branch of a mango tree, spotted Milliken standing over the bodies of two fellow fighters and fired did the silence that evening finally break.
The militant’s shots fatally wounded Milliken and led to a messy, hours-long evacuation that ended as the sun started to climb over the horizon that morning. The team left syringes, bandages, and muddy footprints that hardened in the blazing heat the following day, and the villagers of Daarasalaam retraced the team’s steps, piecing together a narrative of the raid that had resulted in the first U.S. combat death in Somalia since the infamous Black Hawk Down incident in 1993.
In recent weeks, the death of four U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Niger on Oct. 4 has lead some in the United States to question the presence and activities of U.S. soldiers in Africa. The secrecy of U.S. Africa Command or AFRICOM and of American Special Operations Forces has exacerbated suspicions about the dangers they face in roles often described only as “advisors,” and the U.S. government’s findings about that incident may never be made public in their entirety.