US targets Shabaab troops in ‘self defense strike’

US African Command, or AFRICOM, struck Shabaab troops as they massed in southern Somalia yesterday. AFRICOM described the attack against al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia as a “self defense strike” despite the fact that the operation was offensive in nature.

AFRICOM announced the strike in a press advisory that was released today. The number of Shabaab fighters killed or wounded was not disclosed, but AFRICOM said it would “continue to assess the results of the operation.”

“On July 4, at approximately 6:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, working from actionable intelligence, the Department of Defense conducted a successful collective self-defense strike operation against an al-Shabaab troop concentration,” according to AFRICOM’s statement. The Shabaab fighters massed “approximately 300 miles southwest of Mogadishu,” or close to the border with Kenya.

While AFRICOM described the attack against a Shabaab formation as a “self defense strike,” according to the AFRICOM press release, US forces were not operating anywhere near the assembled Shabaab fighters as they were targeted.

The US military has masked offensive operations against Shabaab as “self defense” strikes since the beginning of 2016. AFRICOM has described airstrikes launched during other offensive operations against Shabaab targets such as training camps and IED factories as self defense strikes and “defensive fires” missions. Last year, AFRICOM described nine such operations as defensive in nature. The Department of Defense has even justified airstrikes on Shabaab training camps, such as the one in Raso on March 5, 2016, as defensive operations.

The last self defense strike in Somalia in 2016 took place on Sept. 28, when combined forces raided a Shabaab IED factory near Galcayo and killed nine fighters. AFRICOM launched one more so-called self defense strike in Somalia on Jan. 7, 2017. In that attack, US aircraft attacked Shabaab fighters after they opened fire on Somali, African Union, and US forces as they raided a Shabaab-held ton in the south.

However, an attack on June 11 against a Shabaab “command and logistics node” was not defined by AFRICOM as a self defense strike.

The US military has been launching airstrikes and naval bombardments, as well as special operations raids against Shabaab and its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union, since 2006. Many of these raids were in direct support of military operations, such as airstrikes and naval bombardments in 2007 that supported Ethiopia’s invasion to depose the Islamic Courts Union.

The Long War Journal has recorded 32 such operations against Shabaab or the Islamic Courts since 2006 (see list below). The number of US military operations in Somalia may well be higher, however, it has been difficult to track strikes against Shabaab as there are multiple actors involved in targeting the group, including Kenyan and Ethiopian sources. The US military has not released statements for every encounter. Additionally, for a long period of time, Iranian news outlets muddied the waters by attributing every nearly every action against Shabaab in southern Somalia as a US drone strike. Verifiable press reporting has also been inconsistent.

AFRICOM has loosely described raids against targets such as IED facilities and training camps as “counterterrorism operations,” when in reality these are military operations since they are often launched against well-defended and well-defined targets in areas under direct Shabaab control. Like other al Qaeda branches, Shabaab controls a significant amount of territory and operates a military, intelligence and services, and governs areas it controls.

US operations targeting Shabaab since 2007:

July 4, 2017 – AFRICOM strike Shabaab forces as they amassed 300 miles south of Mogadishu.

June 11, 2017 – US forces killed eight Shabaab fighters in an attack that targeted a command and logistic node in southern Somalia.

Jan. 7, 2017 – US forces launched a self-defense strike near Gaduud during a counterterrorism operation to disrupt Shabaab. No Shabaab fighters were killed.

Sept. 28, 2016 – US forces kill nine Shabaab fighters during a raid on a Shabaab IED factory near Galcayo.

Sept. 26, 2016 – US forces kill four Shabaab fighters during raids on training camps near Kismayo.

Sept. 5, 2016 – The US launched two “self-defense strikes” near Tortoroow after a large Shabaab force attacked a “a Somali-led counterterrorism operation.” Four Shabaab fighters were killed.

Aug. 30, 2016 – US forces killed two Shabaab fighters after they attacked a Somali counterterrorism force near Gobanale.

June 21, 2016 – US troops “conducted a self-defense strike against Shabaab, killing three. The operation was conducted after it was assessed the terrorists were planning and preparing to conduct an imminent attack against US forces.”

May 31, 2016 – Somali troops, backed by US forces, killed Shabaab member Mohammed Dulyadeen, a.k.a. Mohammed Kuno and Kuno Gamadere, during an operation near Gaduud.

May 27, 2016 – The US killed Abdullahi Haji Da’ud, “a senior military commander” for Shabaab, in south-central Somalia.

May 13, 2016 – The US launched “defensive fire missions” which “took place in remote locations in Somalia under al-Shabaab control.”

May 12, 2016 – The US launched “defensive fire missions” which “took place in remote locations in Somalia under al-Shabaab control.”

May 12, 2016 – The US launched “defensive fire missions” which “took place in remote locations in Somalia under al-Shabaab control.”

May 9, 2016 – The US launched “defensive fire missions” which “took place in remote locations in Somalia under al-Shabaab control.”

March 31, 2016 – The US killed Hassan Ali Dhoore, a dual hatted al Qaeda and Shabaab leader who also served in the Amniyat, in an airstrike.

March 10, 2016 – US special operations forces targeted a Shabaab training camp in Awdigle raid.

March 5, 2016 – The US military announced that it launched an airstrike which targeted a Shabaab’s “Raso Camp” north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu. The US justified the strike on al Qaeda’s official East African branch by saying that fighters there “posed an imminent threat.” More than 150 Shabaab fighters are said to have been killed.

Dec. 2, 2015 – US killed Abdirahman Sandhere, a.k.a. Ukash, a senior Shabaab leader, and two other “associates” in an airstrike.

March 12, 2015 – The US military confirmed that it killed Adan Garaar, a senior official in the Amniyat and “a key operative responsible for coordinating al-Shabaab’s external operations” in a drone strike.

Feb. 3, 2015 – US troops targeted and killed Yusuf Dheeq, the head of the Amniyat.

Dec. 29, 2014 – US forces killed Tahlil Abdishakur, the leader of the Amniyat, in an airstrike in Somalia

Sept. 1, 2014 – The US military killed Ahmed Godane, the co-founder of and emir of Shabaab, also known as Sheikh Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, in an airstrike south of Mogadishu.

Jan. 25, 2014 – A US airstrike killed Sahal Iskudhuq, a senior Shabaab commander who served as a high-ranking member of the Amniyat.

Oct. 23, 2013 – A US drone strike killed Anta Anta “the mastermind of al Shabab’s suicide missions.”

Oct. 5, 2013 – US special Operations Forces targeted Shabaab’s external operations chief Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir (Ikrima), but fails to capture or kill him. A Swedish and a Sudanese Shabaab fighter were killed.

Jan. 2012 – A US airstrike killed Bilal al Berjawi, a British national of Lebanese descent.

Sept. 2009 – US special operations forces killed Saleh ali Nabhan, a top al Qaeda and Shabaab leader who was involved in the Kenya and Tanzania bombings

May 2008 – A US airstrike killed senior Shabaab and al Qaeda leader Aden Hashi Ayro.

March 2008 – A US airstrike targeted a safe house in Somalia.

Spring 2008 – The US killed Aden Hashi Ayro and Sheikh Muhyadin Omar in an airstrike in the spring of 2008. Before his death, Ayro was the leader of Shabaab.

June 2007 – US targeted Saleh ali Nabhan, a top al Qaeda and Shabaab leader who was involved in the Kenya and Tanzania bombings

Jan. 2007 – The US military targeted Abu Taha al-Sudani (or Tariq Abdullah), Qaeda’s leader in East Africa, and either Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, both who . Fazul is al Qaeda’s operations chief for East Africa, while Sudani is the chief strategist and ideologue. Sudani is thought to have been killed in that airstrike (Shabaab said he was killed in an airstrike in 2007.)

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • laurent le bloa says:

    It seems that this raid aimed at a concentration of Shabaab fighters who got ready to attack an outpost of the Somalian National Army in the region Jubba, more exactly the sector of Kismayo. Jubba is Al Shabaab’s stronghold nevertheless at present the Somalian governmental offensive takes place in another stronghold, the region Shabelle, apparently to split the Al Shabaab’s strengths. July the 3rd US drone targeted Al-Shabab convoy between Kunya Barow and Barawe, among them was Abdullahi Haji Daud, the militant group’s in charge of intelligence unit known as Amniyat ‘s Al Shabaab’s Intel).
    The opportunity to make a military success of it also corresponds to an attempt of the Somalian president to call Shabaab moderated to to give up the fight and he proposes them an amnesty. The American government supports this plan. For six months the Somalian government negotiates with former Al Shabaab’s spokesman Abu-Mansoor. To facilitate it US Government has just removed him from its list of terrorists. Abu Mansoor’s militia counts some hundred fighters but especially it could deprive Al Shabbab of the support of Hawyie clan, in particular the sub-clan Rahanweyn. The loss could definitively weaken Al Shabaab movement.

  • Devendra Sood says:

    You are NOT killing enough of them, America. Please pick up the pace.

  • den says:

    I get the weird Impression that your reporting is very left-leaning. Almost as if you are condemning American actions in this theatre of operations. Please be specific of your feelings on this matter, as I wonder just where you stand. You make it sound like these activities are contrary. If you don’t stand with us… know the rest.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I support the killing of our jihadist enemies. Calling offensive strikes “self defense strikes” is dishonest and misleading to the American public. AFRICOM should call these strikes what they are and not hide behind silly euphemisms.


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