The US military’s air campaign against Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, continues to intensify. Africa Command (AFRICOM) launched five more airstrikes against Shabaab over the weekend.
The most significant attack took place on Feb 24, when a US aircraft hit a group of Shabaab fighters “as they were transitioning between locations in a rural area” 23 miles east of the town of Beledweyne in central Somalia. AFRICOM estimated that 35 Shabaab fighters were killed in the operation.
The previous day, AFRICOM killed two fighters in four airstrikes that targeted and “eliminated checkpoints and facilities used by al-Shabaab to collect illegal taxes to fund terrorist activities and to oppress the innocent people of Somalia,” AFRICOM noted. The operations took place near the towns of Kunyow Barrow, Awdeegle, and Janaale.
US airstrikes against Shabaab have increased dramatically over the past two months. There were 47 such operations against Shabaab in Somalia during 2017, according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal. In the first two months of this year, there have been 26 such strikes.
The reasons for the increased targeting of Shaabab over the first two months of this year have not been disclosed by the US military. The airstrikes have been targeting Shabaab’s military branch that is used to battle the Somali state, and not its external operations units, which direct terrorist attacks outside of the country.
AFRICOM describes the strikes as part of “partnered military counter-terror operations with the Federal Government of Somalia,” and says that it “will continue to work with its partners to transfer the responsibility for long-term security in Somalia from AMISOM to the Federal Government of Somalia and its Member States.”
It has been rumored that the Trump administration is seeking to reduce, if not withdraw, all US forces in Somalia. This has been denied by the US military. If the Trump administration wanted to leave Somalia, it may be seeking cover to withdraw by claiming a military victory over Shabaab.
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It seems the policy of leaving the airstrike reports to the Somali government was short lived.