More than 100 al-Shabaab militants were killed Tuesday in the latest US airstrike in Somalia the Pentagon announced, the latest in a series of strikes against the al Qaeda affiliated group and ISIS fighters in the war-torn country meant to support the local government. The strike occurred 125 miles northwest of the capital of Mogadishu, and was the 29th such strike since the start of 2017, and 7th since November 9.
The Pentagon released the following statement commemorating the latest airstrike:
U.S. Conducts Airstrike in Support of the Federal Government of Somalia
In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Somalia against an al-Shabaab camp on Tuesday, Nov. 21 at approximately 10:30 a.m. local Somalia time, killing more than 100 militants. The operation occurred 125 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu.
Al-Shabaab has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and is dedicated to providing safe haven for terrorist attacks throughout the world. Al-Shabaab has publicly committed to planning and conducting attacks against the U.S. and our partners in the region.
U.S. forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats. This includes partnering with AMISOM and Somali National Security Forces (SNSF); targeting terrorists, their training camps and safe havens throughout Somalia, the region and around the world.
Our political and security goals in Somalia are the same: a reconstituted Somali state at peace internally and able to address all threats within its territory.
As we reported yesterday, the Defense Department has deployed more than 500 personnel in Somalia including military, civilians and contractors, more than double the 200 personnel that had been reported to be in Somalia in March 2017, according to US Africa Command which oversees US forces on the continent. The personnel are part of the effort to support African forces fighting al-Shabaab as well as ISIS forces there. While estimates have fluctuated over time, the US now estimates there are between 3,000 and 6,000 al-Shabaab fighters and less than 250 ISIS operatives in Somalia.
US troops have primarily operated in Somalia to provide training and assistance for local forces, according to CNN, but US special operations forces also continue to rotate in and out of Somalia, conducting counter terrorism operations according to defense officials.
Early November saw a decided uptick in US airstrikes in Somalia. Africa Command and the Pentagon insist the series of airstrikes are simply due to the ability to identify targets and not as a direct result of a number of recent massive deadly suicide attacks in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, including a double truck bomb attack in October that killed hundreds.
"We've always stressed the importance of putting pressure on the network," said Samantha Reho, an Africa Command spokesperson. "The opportunities presented themselves with the right conditions and are purely coincidence."
The increase in strikes in Somalia as well as Libya and Yemen, is driven by the intelligence that is gathered, according to officials: "I think as we constantly assess the battle space, when targets present themselves that are actionable and within the law of armed conflict, we're going to strike those targets," Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff told reporters.
There have been 29 strikes acknowledged by the Pentagon so far this year. Seven of those strikes took place between November 9 and 14.
- November 9, killing several militants, 100 miles west of the capital of Mogadishu.
- November 10 in the Lower Shabelle Region of Somalia, about 20 miles north of Mogadishu, killing several militants.
- November 11 near Gaduud, about 250 miles southwest of the capital, Mogadishu. Prior to the strike, US forces observed the al-Shabaab combatant participating in attacks on a U.S. and Somali convoy. US forces subsequently conducted the strike under collective self-defense authorities.
- November 12 there were two separate airstrikes against al-Shabaab and ISIS, killing several terrorists. The first was against al Shabaab in the Lower Shabelle region, the second against ISIS in Puntland.
- November 13, there was another airstrike 250 miles southwest of Mogadishu when al Shabaab fighters posed a threat to a Somali led counterterrorism operation.
- November 14 strike against al Shabaab about 60 miles northwest of Mogadishu.
The strikes have been "made possible" by President Donald Trump's decision in April to grant new authorities to the commander of Africa Command. The new authorities gave the Africa Command commander the ability to carry out "precision airstrikes" in support of African Union and Somali troops fighting terrorists in Somalia. Previously, strikes could only be conducted in self-defense of US forces.
Separately, the US military also carried out two drone strikes in Libya on Friday and Sunday, targeting ISIS fighters in near Fuqaha, Libya, multiple US officials told CNN.