Shabaab strikes American, Italian forces in Somalia

Shabaab has conducted two major attacks on foreign troops inside Somalia today. The first targeted U.S. personnel at a base outside of Mogadishu, while the second hit Italian troops on patrol inside of Mogadishu.

The first claimed attack occurred earlier today at a joint U.S.-Somali base in Baledogle, roughly 70 miles northwest of Mogadishu. According to reports, a suicide car bomb rammed into the base’s gate before detonating.

Following the explosion, an assault team entered the fray. This is a common tactic employed by Shabaab routinely seen in its raids on hotels and government facilities in Mogadishu.

In Shabaab’s statement of responsibility, it claimed killing “over 100” U.S. and Somali troops, though this is likely a stark exaggeration. Locals reported hearing a fierce firefight within the base, however, no casualties have been reported within either U.S. or Somali ranks.

Shabaab’s statement also made the unsubstantiated claim that Israeli forces were present at the base. Shabaab has long portrayed its fight as against Israel, among others, in defense of Palestine.

Donald Yamamoto, the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia, confirmed the assault as happening but did not speak to the presence of U.S. troops within the base.

The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has also released a statement confirming the incident and the involvement of U.S. troops.

AFRICOM’s original statement reported that the attack was repulsed after U.S. and Somali forces engaged the militants. Two U.S. airstrikes were also launched against the jihadists.

However, AFRICOM has since updated its assessment of the skirmish and now says that only one airstrike was launched. Additionally, one US soldier was “treated per standard concussion protocol.”

The second attack today occurred shortly thereafter inside the Somali capital. As Italian troops, which are active in Somalia as part of the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) to the country, were struck by a car bomb as they drove near the unit’s base.

Shabaab quickly claimed the bombing on its Telegram page, saying it “killed and wounded many.” However, the EUTM, while confirming the blast took place, reported that no one was injured.

While the Baledogle base houses American special forces, the U.S. has tried to obfuscate its role inside Somalia even as its military activity expands.

This is also not the first time U.S. troops have been targeted by Shabaab in Somalia. Last year, one U.S. Special Forces soldier was killed in combat with Shabaab while a Navy SEAL was also killed in combat in 2017.

The joint U.S.-Somali-Kenyan base in Bar Sanguuni has been repeatedly targeted by Shabaab. Following the death of the U.S. Special Forces soldier last year, the facility was targeted one day later with a suicide truck bomb.

Shabaab attacked the same base again in July 2018, claiming its forces were able to briefly take it over. Subsequent photos released by the group appeared to confirm this claim.

Italian troops have also been hit by Shabaab in the past. In Oct. 2018, the al Qaeda branch claimed a suicide bombing on another convoy of Italian troops inside Mogadishu. Two civilians were killed in that blast.

Shabaab has remained a persistent threat to the Somali government and neighboring countries despite efforts by both the African Union and the U.S. to defeat it over the past decade. It also retains the ability to strike in more heavily fortified areas of Mogadishu.

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 several cities and towns in southern Somalia. European Union troops have also been targeted by the group.

Article updated to reflect new information reported by AFRICOM.

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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