The US military killed 44 Shabaab fighters in three separate airstrikes in central Somalia over the past several days. The pattern of the strikes indicates that al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa either has an established base in the area, or that it was massing its fighters for a large scale attack.
The first two strikes took place on Nov. 19 “in the vicinity of Debatscile” in Mudug province, according to US Africa Command. The first, a “precision strike” that was “a planned and deliberate action,” killed 27 Shabaab fighters. The second killed 10 more fighters.
On Nov. 20, AFRICOM again attacked Shabaab, this time in Qeycad (or Quy Cad) in Mudug province, and killed seven more Shabaab fighters. AFRICOM reported that “these airstrikes did not injure or kill any civilians.”
The strikes against al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, which are executed with the approval of the Somali government, are designed to “reduce al-Shabaab’s ability to plot future attacks, disrupt its leadership networks, and degrade its freedom of maneuver within the region,” AFRICOM said in its first press release.
“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,” AFRICOM said. “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.”
AFRICOM did not provide detailed information on the Nov. 19 and 20 strikes, but the pattern of the operation indicates that Shabaab is organized in the area, or was massing for an attack. The number of Shabaab fighters killed, particularly in the first strike, indicated that Shabaab fighters were possibly gathered at a training camp or other facility.
The US military has launched two other strikes against Shabaab in Mudug province since it began targeting Shabaab via the air in 2007. In Sept. 2016, the US killed nine Shabaab fighters in an attack on an IED factory in Galcayo. Last month, 60 Shabaab fighters were killed in a strike in Haradere.
The strikes in Mudug highlight Shabaab’s reach throughout the country. Mudug is approximately 200 miles north of Mogadishu, where the bulk of the fighting occurs. This year, AFRICOM has launched strikes as far north as Puntland, 700 miles from Mogadishu.
The United States has conducted 33 strikes against Shabaab so far in 2018, AFRICOM’s confirmed to FDD’s Long War Journal over email, already eclipsing last year’s total of 31.
With the uptick in US air operations against Shabaab, the military continually describes Shabaab as a direct threat to the US and its allies.
The US State Department has also noted that Shabaab is a persistent threat. Its most recent report on terrorism, the US described Somalia as a “terrorist safe haven.” The report explained that “al-Shabaab experienced significant military pressure during 2017, but the group still maintained control over large portions of the country. Al-Shabaab retained the ability to carry out high-profile attacks using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), suicide bombings, mortars, and small arms.”
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