US kills 27 Shabaab terrorists in rare northern Somalia strike

In a strike over the weekend, the US killed 27 Shabaab terrorists, according to a US Forces Africa Command (AFRICOM) press release yesterday. The strike took place 26 miles southwest of Bosasso, a major seaport and provincial capital in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region.

It is the northern-most strike conducted against Shabaab in the past decade.

A strike that far north, particularly with such a high casualty count, demonstrates the alarming geographic scope of Shabaab’s insurgency in the country. Bosaso and Jana Cabdalle, the location of the southern-most operation in Somalia in 2018, are nearly 1,000 miles apart.

US operations against Shabaab tend to be concentrated in southern Somalia, near the capital and areas in the Jubba River Valley such as Jilib. The only other known strike against Shabaab in Puntland occurred in June 2007, in which US forces targeted Saleh ali Nabhan, a major al Qaeda and Shabaab leader who was involved in the Kenya and Tanzania bombings, during operations that targeted the leadership of the Islamic Court.

The US military has launched attacks in the north against Shabaab’s rival in Somalia, the Islamic State. In 2017, the United States conducted four strikes against the Islamic State in Puntland. AFRICOM has not conducted any anti-Islamic State strikes this year.

The US has now conducted a total of 16 strikes in Somalia in 2018, all of which have targeted Shabaab, AFRICOM’s Major Karl J. Wiest told FDD’s Long War Journal.

“U.S. forces in cooperation with the government of Somalia, are conducting ongoing counterterrorism operations against al-Shabaab and ISIS in Somalia to degrade the groups’ ability to recruit, train, and plot terror attacks in Somalia and the region,” Wiest said.

The same day, Shabaab attacked a military base in the nearby Galgala mountains, killing at least four Somali soldiers.

The US military has repeatedly described Shabaab as a direct threat to the US and its allies. The US government elevated the threat that Shabaab poses after the group used a sophisticated laptop bomb in an attempt to down a Somali airliner in 2016. That attack was cited by the US government as one of the reasons that electronics have been banned in the cabins of airplanes departing from 10 airports in the Middle East. [See: What’s really behind Trump’s laptop ban.]

Shabaab retains a potent insurgency despite being targeted by the US and engagement from the Somali government and African Union forces. Over the past several years, the group has launched attacks that have killed hundreds of African Union forces from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, and Ethiopia. These Shabaab assaults have forced African Union troops to withdraw from some cities and towns in southern Somalia. Shabaab also controls large rural areas and some towns in southern and central Somalia.

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

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