The United State’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) reported earlier today that it launched a drone strike on Islamic State militants in Somalia’s northern Puntland region yesterday.
AFRICOM stated that it “conducted an airstrike against ISIS-Somalia terrorists after they attacked partner forces in a remote location near Timirshe, Somalia, July 21.” That area of Puntland sits around 90 miles southeast of Somalia’s northern city of Bosaso.
The US military also adds that “it is assessed this airstrike killed seven (7) ISIS-Somalia terrorists,” though this has not been independently verified.
As alluded to by AFRICOM, the airstrike was conducted as Puntland Security Forces (PSF) mounted an offensive against the Islamic State in Somalia (ISS) in the Cal Miskaat mountain range of Puntland.
Local reporting has said that the PSF engaged in a multi-hour gunfight with the ISS militants, which led to the supporting US airstrike.
AFRICOM’s statement today confirmed that US troops were alongside the PSF in order to “advise and assist Somali and partner forces,” though no explicit mention of US troops engaging in combat was made.
In its own statement, the PSF claimed that “more than 20 members of Da’esh [the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State]” were killed in the military operation.
It also adds that this number includes foreign fighters and a foreign official in the group, who was allegedly a military trainer and coordinator between ISS and other Islamic State branches.
Photos released by the PSF show at least three dead bodies among ISS’ ranks.
The Islamic State has also commented on the battle, releasing an exaggerated statement claiming that its men killed and wounded “seven American soldiers and members of Puntland security.”
A follow up statement released by the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency also added the claim that its men “thwarted the fighters [referring to the PSF] and blocked them from entering” the group’s base.
The aforementioned photos released by Puntland security dispute this version of events, however.
The Islamic State’s numbers also directly mirror the number of dead ISS fighters given in AFRICOM’s statement.
According to Voice of America, this is the 42nd US airstrike in Somalia this year. The overwhelming majority, however, have been directed against al-Qaeda’s branch in the country, Shabaab.
As a result, yesterday’s drone strike also marks the first such hit on the Islamic State in Somalia this year. Last year, AFRICOM launched at least 6 airstrikes on ISS in Puntland according to data kept by FDD’s Long War Journal.
Islamic State in Somalia
ISS continues to suffer severe setbacks to its organization. Since the beginning of the year, Puntland and Somali security forces have launched several raids on ISS bases and hideouts across the country.
And based on reports from Somali media, ISS has now lost at least 4 senior leaders of its organization since January.
That said, ISS has shown the capability to retain its bases in Puntland’s mountains and claim sporadic attacks in both Puntland and southern Somalia.
For instance, it has claimed at least 21 operations across the country so far this year according to data kept by FDD’s Long War Journal. The vast majority of these claims have taken place inside Mogadishu or its surrounding suburbs.
Earlier this year, the group also highlighted a training camp Puntland, while the UN noted in January that ISS’ bases in the northern mountains have acted as a “command center” for the Islamic State’s Central African Province.
Article updated with new information regarding the July 21 battle.