U.S. military strikes Shabaab in central Somalia

The U.S. military targeted Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, in a pair of strikes in central Somalia over the past several days.

The first attack took place on Jan. 20 near the town of Galcad in Somalia’s central region of Galguduud. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) said it killed at least 30 Shabaab members in what it calls “a collective self-defense strike.” Somali troops recently recaptured Galcad as part of major counter-offensives against the jihadist group.

That airstrike corresponds to a massive Shabaab suicide assault on a Somali National Army (SNA) base in the town, in which two suicide car bombs were used to target the base before an assault team stormed the perimeter. At least seven SNA troops were killed in the assault.

Photos later released by Shabaab appear to show the capture of dozens of SNA vehicles, which were likely later destroyed in AFRICOM’s airstrike.

The second “self-defense strike” occurred on Jan. 23 near the town Xaradheere in the Mudug region in central Somalia. AFRICOM said two Shabaab members were killed in the attack. Much like Galcad, Somali troops recently recaptured Xaradheere from Shabaab.

Utilizing its long-used tactic, Shabaab gave up Xaradheere without putting up resistance, instead choosing to tactically withdraw from the location. Remnant Shabaab positions were thus likely targeted by the strike.

AFRICOM has launched two strikes against Shabaab since the beginning of 2023. Last year, the U.S. military command launched 15 strikes against Shabaab. In one of those operations, the U.S. killed Abdullahi Yare, a Shabaab commander and co-founder of the terror group who had a $3 million reward out for his capture.

The U.S. military has been attacking Shabaab using air power as the Somali government has been attempting to wrest control of Shabaab-held territory in central and southern Somalia. A majority of the strikes are what AFRICOM describes as “defensive,” meaning they were launched to support Somali forces as they were being attacked by Shabaab. 

According to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal, the United States has launched at least 244 airstrikes killing at least 1156 people in Somalia since 2007. The United States maintains that the vast majority of those killed were affiliated with Shabaab. 

The U.S. military continues to describe Shabaab as a significant threat to U.S. security. In the Jan. 20 press release, AFRICOM described Shabaab as “the largest and most deadly al-Qaeda network in the world.”

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at 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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