AFRICOM kills 60 Shabaab fighters in largest strike in Somalia since 2017

The US military launched what it is now calling its largest strike against Shabaab in Somalia since late 2017 over the weekend. Today, US Forces Africa Command (AFRICOM) released its assessment of the results of a previously reported assault on Oct. 12 near Haradere, revealing that the strike killed 60 Shabaab terrorists.

The last airstrike of a similar scale killed 100 terrorists in Nov. 2017.

Excluding strikes in the semiautonomous Puntland, Haradere is also the northernmost location AFRICOM has targeted in 2018. A large concentration of Shabaab fighters a significant distance from its typical support zone in Jubba River Valley demonstrates the al Qaeda branch’s resilience across the country.

The United States has conducted 27 strikes against Shabaab in 2018, AFRICOM’s Maj. Karl Wiest confirmed to FDD’s Long War Journal over email, putting AFRICOM is on-pace to eclipse last year’s total of 31 strikes.

The release also included valuable information on the nature and goals of the American campaign:

Airstrikes reduce al-Shabaab’s ability to plot future attacks, disrupt its leadership networks, and degrade its freedom of maneuver within the region.

Alongside our Somali and international partners, we are committed to preventing al-Shabaab from taking advantage of safe havens from which they can build capacity and attack the people of Somalia.  In particular, the group uses portions of southern and central Somalia to plot and direct terror attacks, steal humanitarian aid, extort the local populace to fund its operations, and shelter radical terrorists.

The desired end state in East Africa is one in which terrorist organizations cannot destabilize Somalia and its neighboring states, nor threaten the interests of the U.S. and its international allies in the region.  Accordingly, U.S. Africa Command will continue to work with its partners to transfer the responsibility for long-term security in Somalia from the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) to the Federal Government of Somalia and its Member States.

The US military and government, particularly during the Obama administration, has previously characterized its air campaign as counterterrorism strikes designed to weaken Shabaab’s ability to strike outside the country. However, the pattern of strikes over the past decade clearly shows that while high value assets were targeted, such as al Qaeda leaders embedded within Shabaab who were involved in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, many of the strikes focused on the Shabaab infrastructure that supports its local insurgency.

While many analysts attempt to draw a line between local insurgencies waged by an al Qaeda branch and its external operations (attacks against Western interests), this a a distinction without difference. Al Qaeda’s primary goal is to overthrow local governments and create emirates which will eventually coalesce into an Islamic caliphate. As an al Qaeda branch’s insurgency grows more potent, its ability to fundraise, recruit, train and execute attacks, both internally and externally, increases. Terrorist attacks against western governments is merely a tactic used by al Qaeda to achieve its overarching of reviving a global caliphate.

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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