STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. launched five airstrikes over two days against Al-Shabab militants in Somalia who were preparing to battle American-backed troops in a city south of Mogadishu, U.S. Africa Command said Thursday.
“These precision airstrikes targeted members of the al-Qaida-aligned terrorist network as they massed and maneuvered in the vicinity of an ongoing Somali-led ground operation,” AFRICOM said in a statement Thursday.
The militants targeted in the strikes Monday and Tuesday posed a “direct threat” to Somali security forces, AFRICOM said. American troops were in the area “to advise and assist” the Somalis, it said.
“We eliminated terrorists posing a direct and immediate threat, allowing our African partners to maintain the momentum on the ground,” said Maj. Gen. William Gayler, AFRICOM’s director of operations.
No civilians were believed to have been killed in the operation, AFRICOM said. It did not say how many Al-Shabab fighters were killed in the attack.
AFRICOM has stepped up its campaign in Somalia in recent years, carrying out a record 63 airstrikes in 2019. With around 25 strikes launched against militants in the Horn of Africa country in the first three months of 2020, U.S. airstrikes in Somalia this year look to be on track to outpace last year’s tally.
The U.S. is also training Somali military units in the hope that they will eventually be able to counter Al-Shabab on their own.
Al-Shabab holds less territory in Somalia than it did a decade ago but is still able to carry out high-profile attacks inside and outside of the country, and has expressed the ambition to target the U.S.
Three Americans — a soldier and two military contractors — were killed in January when Al-Shabab extremists attacked the Manda Bay airfield in Kenya, which is used by the U.S. military. The mastermind of the attack on the airfield was killed the following month in a U.S. airstrike, AFRICOM said.