The US military launched its first airstrikes against the Islamic State’s network in the eastern African country of Somalia earlier today, complementing a decade long air campaign against Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in the country.
US Africa Command, or AFRICOM, confirmed that it “conducted two separate airstrikes against ISIS, in northeastern Somalia on Nov. 3, killing several terrorists.”
“US forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats,” the AFRICOM press release noted. “This includes partnering with AMISOM and Somali National Security Forces (SNSF); targeting terrorists, their training camps and safe havens throughout Somalia, the region and around the world.”
Today’s strikes hit an Islamic State “base” in the village of Buqa, south of the town of Qandala near the Bari mountains in Somalia’s semi autonomous region of Puntland, Voice of America reported. “According to the information we are getting from the ground, six missiles hit the militants’ base in the mountainous area,” a Somali official told the news agency. At least one Islamic State fighter is thought to have been killed.
Prior to today, the US air campaign in Somalia focused exclusively on al Qaeda’s network in East Africa, known as Shabaab. There have been 15 such strikes recorded by FDD’s Long War Journal against Shabaab so far this year, 13 of which occurred since the beginning of June. The targets have included a Shabaab command center and logistics node, a group of fighters as they massed for an attack in the south, and a senior leader in the Mogadishu Attack Network.
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.
Islamic State has a foothold in Somalia
The Islamic State faction operating in Somalia is led by Abdulqadir Mumin, a former Shabaab official who appeared in many of its propaganda videos before defecting to the Islamic State in Oct. 2015. In Aug. 2016, the US State Department added Mumin to its list of global terrorists.
Out of the 300 Shabaab members based in the Galgala hills of Puntland at the time, only 20 defectors are said to have gone with him. At its height, the faction likely had around 200 members before a Puntland military campaign drove them back from the town of Qandala in Nov. 2016. A recent defector of the group told Puntland authorities that there are only around 70 people remaining in the group.
The faction is largely based in the Golis and Bari mountains of northern Somalia, the latter of which is the reported location of today’s strike. The group is known to run at least one training camp in that area which is named after Bashir Abu Numan, another Shabaab commander who defected to the Islamic State but was killed by Shabaab’s Amniyat (internal security force).
Mumin’s group was responsible for several attacks in Bosaso, the capital of Somalia’s Bari region. These attacks include its first claimed suicide bombing in May and an assault on a hotel. Late last year, Mumin’s faction captured the port town of Qandala. It held the town for two months before Puntland security forces and clan militias finally drove it from the town.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.