US President Donald Trump has approved a plan to increase counter-terrorism strikes in Somalia, the Pentagon said on Thursday (30 March).

The president gave the chief of African Command the authority to launch a campaign against al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliate terror group.

According to The New York Times, the new war-zone targeting rules will apply for at least 180 days.

"The additional support provided by this authority will help deny al-Shabaab safe haven from which it could attack US citizens or US interests in the region," Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said in a statement.

The US military will now be allowed to conduct "precision airstrikes" to support the African Union Mission in Somalia and the Somalia National Army as they fight against the terrorist organisation. A US official told CNN that US advisers already working to train and advise local forces in Somalia will also be able to help coordinate the strikes.

The official said that the new authority will be legally based on the 2001 authorisation for use of military force due to the terror group's affiliation to al-Qaeda.

Areas of active hostilities

Some regions of Somalia will now be designated as "areas of active hostilities," which will remove strikes from restrictions imposed on counter-terrorism attacks outside of those areas. The official told CNN the designated areas will not include the capital of Mogadishu or the area of Puntland.

Africa Command Commander General Thomas Waldhauser told reporters on 24 March that approval would allow US forces to have a "little more flexibility, a little bit more timeliness, in terms of decision-making process".

Waldhauser added: "It allows [us] to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion. So that obviously is something that we advocate for."

Prior to the new rules, the military was required to follow standards established by President Barack Obama in 2013 on counter-terrorism strikes away from conventional war zones.

According to the Times, the presidential policy guidance rules required high-level, inter-agency vetting of proposed strikes. The rules also required the target to pose a threat to Americans, and a near-certainty that no civilian bystanders would die.

Under the new authority, Waldhauser will have the power to call for missions comparable to those called by the commander of Central Command against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). However, the prevention of civilian casualties will remain a priority.

"Obviously, the cardinal rule in these types of engagements is to not make more enemies than you already have," Waldhauser said. "And I think we go to great pains to do that."