US Africa Command launched three “precision airstrikes” against Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia and East Africa, in southern Somalia earlier today. The US military has now targeted Shabaab forces five times and killed 10 jihadist fighters over the past week.
AFRICOM did not provide the precise location of the three strikes, but said they took place “about 260 kilometers south of the capital Mogadishu.” The strike likely took place somewhere near Jilib, a known safe haven for Shabaab. The strikes took place “within a geographically-defined area in support of partner forces in Somalia,” according to AFRICOM.
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. Shabaab has killed hundreds of African Union and Somali forces while overrunning bases in southern Somalia, and has maintained its safe havens while expanding areas under its control during 2016.
Since the beginning of June, the US military has announced 13 strikes against Shabaab. The targets have varied. A June 11 operation hit a Shabaab command center and logistics node. A July 4 attack targeted Shabaab fighters as they massed for an attack in the south. A July 29 airstrike killed Ali Muhammad Hussein, a senior Shabaab leader, in a strike on the Mogadishu Attack Network.
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.
The US State Department, in its Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, said that Shabaab 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.
As in previous press releases, AFRICOM also noted that Shabaab “has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda and is dedicated to providing safe haven for terrorist attacks throughout the world.” The group has also “publicly committed to planning and conducting attacks against the US and our partners in the region.”