The US military announced that it launched an airstrike which targeted a Shabaab “camp” north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu on March 5. The US justified the strike on al Qaeda’s official East African branch by saying that fighters there “posed an imminent threat.”
The announcement was made today in a press release attributed to Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook. According to media reports from Somalia, more than 150 Shabaab fighters were killed in the operation, but the numbers could not be independently confirmed. Cook said that “manned and unmanned aircraft” were used in the attack.
A Shabaab spokesman confirmed the attack but denied the group lost 150 fighters in the strike.
“The U.S. bombed an area controlled by al Shabaab,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters. “But they exaggerated the figure of casualties. We never gather 100 fighters in one spot for security reasons. We know the sky is full of planes.”
The strike took place against the “Raso Camp” in the town of Raso in Bulobarde province. Raso is more than 100 miles due north of the capital of Mogadishu. The location of the camp serves as a reminder that Shabaab controls areas near Mogadishu that are far from the visible fighting further south.
Cook said the attacked was launched on March 5 “in self-defense and in defense of our African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) partners.” The camp was described as a “a training facility,” and “the fighters who were scheduled to depart the camp posed an imminent threat to US and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces in Somalia.”
“The removal of these fighters degrades al Shabaab’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Somalia, including recruiting new members, establishing bases, and planning attacks on US and AMISOM forces,” Cook said in the release.
However, the true effects of the operation are difficult to gauge. The US and the Kenyan military have launched multiple airstrikes against Shabaab’s military and top leaders. Most recently, in December 2015, the US said it killed Abdirahman Sandhere and two other “associates” in an airstrike. The US military described the death of Sandhere as “”a significant blow to al-Shabaab.” The deaths of other senior Shabaab leaders, including the group’s last emir and the two previous leaders of the Amniyat, Shabaab’s intelligence service, were followed by similar proclimations by the military.
Shabaab has since proceeded to launch sophisticated ambushes on Kenyan and AMISOM forces in southern Somalia, and has regained control of several towns in the south since Sandhere was killed.