WASHINGTON – Reflecting stepped-up targeting of extremists in Africa, the U.S. military said airstrikes killed more than 100 militants in Somalia on Tuesday and hit Islamic State fighters in Libya days earlier.
U.S. Africa Command, which manages U.S. military operations on the continent, said the airstrike in Somalia targeted an al-Shabab camp about 125 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu, killing more than 100. That is the largest number of reported deaths from a single U.S. airstrike in Somalia since the Trump administration approved expanded military operations against al-Shabab, which is allied with al-Qaida.
Al-Shabab is blamed for last month’s truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 350 people.
A Somali intelligence official said U.S. drone aircraft fired at least eight missiles at al-Shabab bases and training camps in Bur-Eylada, a village situated between the towns of Dinsor and Burhakaba in the Bay region. The official, who was not authorized to speak to reporters on the record and discussed the matter on condition of anonymity, said senior al-Shabab commanders were among the dead.
The U.S. this month also began targeting a small but growing IS presence in northern Somalia.
Separately, Africa Command said it conducted two airstrikes near Fuqaha in central Libya against Islamic State group militants — one Nov. 17 and another two days later. It made no mention of casualties and did not identify the specific targets. It said the strikes were done in coordination with Libya’s interim government, known as the Government of National Accord.
The Trump administration has committed to preventing the Islamic State group from regrouping after losing its grip on significant territory in Iraq and Syria.
The Somalia strike was done in coordination with Somalia’s federal government, the Pentagon said.
U.S. airstrikes killing such a large number of militants in Somalia are rare, but not unprecedented. In March 2016, a U.S. airstrike killed more than 150 al-Shabab fighters in Somalia.
Somalia’s state news agency, SONNA, reported late on Tuesday that “about 100 militants” were killed when U.S. planes and Somali commandos attacked al-Shabab bases in the Bur Elay area of Bay region.
Al-Shabab spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab denied the attack. “It is just … propaganda,” he told Reuters in Somalia.
Al-Shabab is fighting to topple Somalia’s Western-backed transitional federal government and impose its own rule on the Horn of Africa country.
Earlier this month, the U.S. warned of a threat to its diplomatic staff in Mogadishu and directed all nonessential staff to leave the capital.
Al-Shabab has lost control of most of Somalia’s cities and towns since it was pushed out of Mogadishu in 2011. But it retains a strong presence in parts of the south and center and carries out gun and bomb attacks.
“Al-Shabab has publicly committed to planning and conducting attacks against the U.S. and our partners in the region,” the U.S. military statement said.
Al-Shabab aims to topple Somalia’s government, drive out African Union peacekeeping troops and impose its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
Earlier this month, the U.S. military also carried out its first strikes against Islamic State militants in Somalia and said it killed “several terrorists.”