The U.S. military has killed 35 fighters from al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab in an airstrike in Somalia near the Ethiopian border, U.S. Africa Command (Africom) said Monday. In a statement, Africom said the Sunday airstrike targeted the fighters “as they were transitioning between locations in a rural area,” approximately 23 miles east of Beledweyne in the Hiran region. “In the case of this strike, we interrupted an Al Shabaab attempt to mass their forces,” Africom Director of Operations Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson said in the statement.
“Precision strikes eliminated a potential threat to our partners and to the people of Somalia well before the terrorists ever got themselves organized.”
The United States military has significantly increased its airstrikes in Somalia since 2017, when President Trump entered the White House, and last year carried out 47 strikes in the east Africa nation. The Islamist terrorist group – which has steadily been driven out of Somalia’s cities and towns over the years – still remains a threat as it seeks to recruit more fighters and topple the state’s government.
Al-Shabaab was responsible for a double bombing in Mogadishu that killed over 500 people in October 2017. This is the 20th airstrike in Somalia so far this year, including four on Saturday that “eliminated checkpoints and facilities used by al-Shabaab to collect illegal taxes to fund terrorist activities and to oppress” Somalian citizens, according to a separate Africom notice. But the head of Africom, Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, said earlier this month that the U.S. airstrikes are not enough to defeat the militant group.“At the end of the day, these strikes are not going to defeat al-Shabaab,” Waldhauser told lawmakers during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
The United States hopes the Somali National Army will step up and take the lead role in the country’s security over the next few years. The goal is made all the more vital with the Defense Department announcing in November that it will cut the number of U.S. troops deployed to Africa in counterterrorism missions by about 10 percent, or roughly 720 of the 7,200 military forces serving in Africom. For now, approximately 500 U.S. personnel are based in Somalia, including troops, civilians and contractors.
Source: The Hill.