U.S. airstrikes have killed another 26 members of the al-Shabab extremist group in Somalia, officials said on Friday, in a continuation of recent attacks that had already killed 55 earlier this week.
A U.S. Africa Command statement said the latest strike came on Thursday, in the Hiran region of the country. That’s the same area where earlier attacks took place, and a known area of al-Shabab activity.
The stepped-up U.S. action comes at a time of renewed terror attacks by al-Shabab in Mogadishu, the country’s capital. The new strike was announced after more details were revealed about the latest terror attack, which left 24 people killed and another 50 injured.
That attack began with a pair of car bombs Thursday night in Mogadishu, in a popular area of the city featuring a number of bars and restaurants. The attack was one of the most serious terror strikes in months.
Somali officials said on Friday that those who had carried out the attack had been taken out in gun battles that continued into the morning with the al-Shabab, a group linked to al-Qaeda. One of the bombs in the attack went off near the home of appeals court chief Judge Abshir Omar, and security forces fought off gunmen who tried to force their way inside.
“We heard a huge blast, a devastating blast that affected all the buildings,” said Mohamed Ibrahim Mo’alim, the secretary general of the national union of Somali journalists.
At least four gunmen then opened fire at nearby buildings and businesses, sparking clashes with hotel guards, he said. Dozens of cars caught fire along busy Maka Almukarramah Road.
Al-Shabab has been more active of late. It was being an attack on a luxury hotel complex in neighboring Kenya last month and was also behind the deadliest attack in Somalia’s history, a massive truck bombing that killed well over 500 people in Mogadishu in October 2017.
U.S. forces have been much more active against al-Shabab in the Trump administration. Though how effective the strikes will be over the long term remains to be seen. Al-Shabab continues to hold large swaths of territory out of Mogadishu, in the rural cental part of the country, and in southern Somalia.
The US military has stepped up its air campaign against Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia in recent days, with officials on Friday saying another 26 “terrorists” had been killed.
The latest air strike, which occurred in the Hiran region of central Somalia on Thursday, came as violence in the capital Mogadishu flared.
According to US Africa Command (AFRICOM), the strike killed 26 “terrorists.”
It did not provide further detail but such strikes are usually conducted by drones.
The strike brings the toll of Shabaab militants killed in recent days to 81, with 20 killed on February 25, and another 35 killed a day earlier.
Such strikes “maintain pressure on al-Shabaab and disrupt its planning cycle and degrade its ability to mass forces and coordinate attacks against the Somali people,” AFRICOM’s deputy intelligence director Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield said in a statement.
But on Thursday in Mogadishu, a Shabaab car bomb exploded, killing at least 19 people.
Shabaab fighters were pushed out of Somalia’s capital in 2011, and subsequently from other towns and cities, by African Union troops.
The Al-Qaeda-linked group still holds sway in large parts of the countryside even though the US military is supporting local partner forces fight the jihadists.
Shabaab launches regular gun and bomb attacks on government, military and civilian targets in Mogadishu, as well as ambushes on military convoys and outposts.
In one strike in January, AFRICOM said it killed 52 Somali militants.
Africa Command head General Thomas Waldhauser recently told US lawmakers that air strikes alone would not stop Shabaab, and he called on Somalia’s army to take more responsibility in the fight.
The Associated Press