2020 saw record U.S. airstrikes in Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia - In the last eight months, the US Africa Command has carried out 46 airstrikes in Somalia, the Horn of Africa nation which has been struggling with Al-Shabaab menace, the highest number within the same period since joining the fight against the Al-Qaida linked group, a top official said.
Col. Chris Karns, director of public affairs, U.S. Africa Command, said the airstrikes are carried jointly with the Somali National Army [SNA], which is preparing to take over security responsibilities from foreign troops especially those from the African Union Mission in Somalia, who are set to leave in 2021.
The airstrikes, he said, are routinely launched within rural central and southern Somalia, an area which is occupied by the militants. However, the US Africa Command carried the first-ever raid against IS-Somalia militants in Puntland, killing at least seven militants early this month.
"US Africa Command continues to support Somali National Army and their operations with precision airstrikes. In 2020, US Africa Command has conducted 46 airstrikes to degrade Al-Shabaab terrorists," said Karns, who has been giving regular feeds on the war against Al-Shabaab.
This is the highest number of airstrikes within this year by the US army across the world, a manifestation of how Washington is committed to vanquishing the militants. Last year, the command waged 63 airstrikes in the Horn of Africa nation.
So far, at least 60 militants have been killed from the airstrikes this year alone, including some of those who had been on the radar of the State Department. Some of them include Bashir Qorgab, who masterminded attack at US Naval Base in Lamu, Kenya, Yusuf Jiis, and the latest victim, Abdikadir Commandos, who was killed on Monday at Saakow.
But the airstrikes have also claimed the lives of innocent civilians, with the US military admitting the death of two innocent people in a quarterly report released this month. There has been pressure from international organizations that project the deaths of innocent civilians at 22, although some are yet to be verified.
"Al-Shabaab routinely resorts to the tradecraft of terror, crime, and propaganda to intimidate and seek control of the local populace," Col. Chris Karns added. "Persistent pressure against the al-Shabaab damages their narrative, network, and plans for broader destruction and violence."
A recent report by the United Nations Security Council established that the Al-Shabaab militants have started deserting villages due to increasing airstrikes and are taking refuge in urban centers where the operations are limited due to the presence of civilians. The militants can still wage small to large scale sporadic attacks despite the fact that they have been significantly degraded.
Data released by the UN indicates that there are close to 7,000 active Al-Shabaab fighters mainly in Somalia. However, Kenya has borne the brunt of Al-Shabaab attacks and the presence of the militants is felt especially along with the Northern Frontier Districts of Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa.
Recently, Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander AFRICOM, visited both Kenya and Somalia where he discussed strategies of eliminating the militants. The US has close to 500 servicemen in Somalia who are partly responsible for training and equipping the SNA troops.
"Violent extremist organizations threaten the American homeland. We keep an eye on Al-Shabaab every day. That effort to disrupt and degrade is a critical part of what we do," Gen. Townsend, who joined the force last year, said in a statement on Thursday.
The Al-Shabaab has also been struggling with internal wrangles which have seen group leader Ahmed Omar Diriye take on Amniyat commander Mahad Karate, who is also in charge of finances.
On Friday, Somalia's spy agency, the National Intelligence Security Agency [NISA], tweeted a statement claiming that Diriye is currently fighting for his health and has since handed over to his deputy Abukar Aden.
Next year, the African Union Mission in Somalia [AMISOM] is set to withdraw from the country after years of the peacekeeping mission. There are close to 22,000 soldiers under AMISOM mainly drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Burundi.