A truck bomb in Mogadishu in Somalia last Saturday killed at least 320 people and injured hundreds more.
The attack has been widely blamed on the Al Shabaab Islamist group, although it has not claimed responsibility. The horrific deaths may be used as a trigger for extra US forces to enter the east African country.
Somalia has been a target of the great powers ever since its independence in 1960.
It has a strategic position with close access to the oil lanes of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. This made it a prize during the Cold War between Russia and the US.
In 1992 the US invaded Somalia, using famine as a pretext. Initially welcomed, the US soon became hated.
Massacres and torture by the US-led forces made them deeply resented and eventually resistance forced a humiliating US withdrawal.
Amid the chaos and poverty caused by the US intervention, various Islamist groups emerged offering stability. Although harsh, they won widespread popularity compared to what had gone before. They were pushed out by a Western-backed invasion led by Ethiopian forces.
The present government in Somalia survives only because it is backed by 20,000 African Union (AU) troops and the political support of the US.
The AU troops are widely unpopular because of their heavy-handed and brutal treatment of local people.
This is the climate in which Al Shabaab has grown. Its soldiers have repeatedly seized territory from the government.
On the same day as the bombing it took the town of Bariire, just 30 miles from Mogadishu. Pro-government soldiers withdrew as Al Shabaab approached.
Somalia’s defence minister and the army chief both resigned last week.
US president Donald Trump declared parts of Somalia to be a “zone of active hostilities” in March where airstrikes and drone attacks could be carried out with virtually no restrictions. The New York Times newspaper reported that, “some civilian bystander deaths would be permitted if deemed necessary”.
Trump also authorised the deployment of regular US forces to Somalia for the first time since the 1990s.
A US special forces soldier was killed in May during a clash with Al Shabaab.
Meanwhile, a drought has left 400,000 Somali children with acute malnutrition and 3 million people living in crisis or emergency food security conditions.
But Somalia is not eligible for emergency funding from the World Bank because it has not repaid loans taken out in the 1980s. The delay means thousands of people will die.
Kevin Watkins, the chief executive of Save the Children, said, “It is frankly indefensible for creditors to obstruct that finance because of arrears on debts created 40 years ago.
“Why should Somalia’s children be denied a future because of debts they played no part in creating?”