US Africa Command (AFRICOM) confirmed that the July 30 “kinetic strike” killed a Shabaab commander who led forces and conducted attacks in Mogadishu and the Banadir regions in southern Somalia for al Qaeda’s arm in East Africa.
Ali Muhammad Hussein, who is also known as Ali Jabal, was killed in the operation that took place near Tortoroow in southern Somalia. AFRICOM acknowledged the strike on July 31 and said that one Shabaab operative was killed, but could not confirm his identity. No civilians were killed in the attack, AFRICOM said.
AFRCOM described Jabal as “a senior al-Shabaab terrorist” who “was responsible for leading al-Shabaab forces operating in the Mogadishu and Banadir regions in planning and executing attacks against the capital of Mogadishu.”
“He used the Lower Shabelle Region of Somalia, a known al-Shabaab safe haven, as a hub for these activities,” the press release continued.
AFRICOM said his death would significantly degrade Shabaab’s ability to coordinate attacks in the capital and in southern Somalia.
However, the US military has killed numerous Shabaab leaders, including its emir, and military leaders and intelligence officials, with little effect. The targeted killings of Shabaab’s leadership has not prevented the al Qaeda branch from retaking towns and maintaining its safe haven in the south, nor has it stopped the group from viciously attacking Somali and African Union forces.
The US State Department, in its Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, said that al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa has prospered over the past year “due largely to lapses in offensive counterterrorism operations during 2016.” Additionally, State noted that Somali security forces “remained incapable of securing and retaking towns from al-Shabaab independently,” and while not explicitly stated, hinted that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is failing.
Shabaab recently took control of the city of Lego after Uganda forces withdrew, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. The Ugandan withdrawal from Lego was confirmed by CGTN News.
“The abrupt withdrawal of the Ugandan forces from this city comes after they incurred painful strikes a few days [sic], where more than 51 of their soldiers were killed, including 7 officers, in a series of ambushes set for them by Shabaab al-Mujahideen Movement fighters near the city of Bulu Marir,” Shabaab’s Shahada News Agency reported, according to SITE.
The US strike that targeted Jabal is part of an expanded effort to roll back Shabaab’s recent gains. At the end of March, the Trump administration loosened the restrictions on the US military to use force against Shabaab after the Department of Defense noted that Shabaab has become more lethal and dangerous.
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It’s really a good question about strategy: Is killing terrorist leaders enought to weaken Al Shabaab movement? Withdrawal of the Ugandan Forces from Lego indicates the difficulties to secure movements as UAMISOM ans SNA are heading toward Al Shabaab’s strongholds. Ethiopian Army and Sheek Axmed Maxamed Islam are sending troops to Baidoah in view of retaking Lego. In last hours their troops also have been ambushed. Some are pointing the UAMISOM’s lack of armored vehicles.