AFRICOM hits Shabaab near Somali capital

The US military killed eight Shabaab fighters today in an area near Mogadishu that has in the past harbored foreign fighters. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has now targeted Shabaab 40 times in 2018, exceeding last year’s combined total of 35 strikes against both the al Qaeda branch and the Islamic State’s network in the country.

The strike took place in the town of Gandarshe, which is 15 miles south of Mogadishu and just north of Merca. AFRICOM said that no civilians were killed during the operation.

Gandarshe is located in a corridor along the coast that in the past has been a hub for foreign al Qaeda fighters who have joined Shabaab. In 2009, the US killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a senior al Qaeda leader who embedded with Shabaab and was indicted for his involvement in the 1998 suicide attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in a special operations raid near Barawe. Nabhan was instrumental in cementing the official merger between Shabaab and al Qaeda. The US also killed a Moroccan jihadist in Merca in an airstrike in 2012.

This area, known as the Lower Shabelle Region, was identified by the US government as a “known safe haven” for Shabaab. The Somali military, in conjunction with the African Union and US military, have attempted to retake control of this region from Shabaab. Last week, Shabaab assassinated two Somali generals who were leading the fight in the region.

After launching a series of strikes against Shabaab’s network in the central Somali province of Mudug, AFRICOM’s targeting of Shabaab appears to have shifted further south. A strike on Dec. 8 in Basra, a small town just north of Mogadishu, killed four Shabaab fighters. Another strike, on Dec. 4, killed four Shabaab fighters in the town of Awdheegle, which is just north of Gandarshe.

AFRICOM said the operations are intended to prevent Shabaab from “from taking advantage of safe havens” and using “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.”

Shabaab has maintained an effective insurgency despite a decade-long effort by by the US military, the African Union, and the Somalia government to defeat it.

The US State Department has also labeled Shabaab as 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.”

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

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