US drone strikes leave over 15 Al-Shabaab militants dead in southern Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia - At least 15 Al-Shabaab militants were killed last week following US drone strikes in Lower Shebelle, officials have said, giving a clue on what transpired during the battle to liberate strategic Janaale town.
Special Forces drawn from Somali National Army [SNA] and AMISOM raided the town, with the US military giving much-needed air surveillance during the encounter, officials added.
Major Karl Wiest, the US Africa Command spokesman, told VOA that the strikes were "important" since they disoriented the militants during the battle, in a town that had been under siege for a decade.
The militants posed an “imminent threat” to international forces who, according to a U.S. defense official, have now secured the town of Janaale in the country’s Lower Shabelle region and are building a forward operating base there.
"Not to spike the football, but that's exactly the type of incremental progress we're seeing" from partner forces, a defense official told VOA, four days after the "successful" raid.
In a press statement, AFRICOM confirmed conducting five airstrikes on Monday and Tuesday in Janaale, although the number of casualties was not immediately established.
But before the death of the over 15 militants, the US military had conducted parallel airstrikes a week before, killing a total of nine militants in the agricultural town, officials said.
The U.S. military’s casualty assessment, which is normally included in the press release, has been slowed because of “dense vegetation in the area,” a defense official told VOA.
U.S. forces were nearby advising Somali partners at the time of the strikes. None were wounded in counter-al-Shabab operations there, officials said.
Through one of their affiliate news agency, the Al-Shabaab claimed that dozens of AMISOM and SNA troops were killed during the raid, according to the SITE intelligence group, VOA reported.
But Lieutenant Christina Gibson, AFRICOM's spokeswoman, said the claims are “another example of al-Shabab trying to further their deceptive narrative and spread lies and propaganda in support of their violent cause."
The pace of U.S. military strikes against al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabab in Somalia this year has nearly been on par with the number of strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
In the record three months, the US military has conducted almost 30 airstrikes in Somalia, the highest number in the same period previously. In Syria and Iraq, only 27 airstrikes have been conducted so far.
General Stephen Townsend, the AFRICOM commander, told House Armed Forces Committee that "the threat has been higher in the last few months than it was eight months ago,” when he took over the command.
Strikes in Iraq and Syria have significantly tapered off since the territorial defeat of the so-called Islamic State caliphate last March.
AFRICOM conducted a record of 63 strikes in Somalia last year. Most were against al-Shabab, which has an estimated 6,000 militants in Somalia, with a handful of strikes against Islamic State.
The Al-Shabaab militants have been fighting to topple the fragile UN-backed Somalia government since 2008 but lost control of Mogadishu in 2011 following an onslaught by AMISOM and SNA troops.
During the Lower Shebelle take over, elite troops from SNA led by Danab and Gorgor participated. The former is trained by the US and the latter gets instructions from Turkey.