US military says airstrike kills 35 militants in Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia - The US military announced Monday that an airstrike in Somalia killed 35 Al Shabaab fighters on Sunday.
That means at least 180 fighters from the al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group have been killed in 22 airstrikes so far in 2019, according to figures released by US Africa Command, which oversees US military operations on the continent.
The latest strike took place about 23 miles east of Beledweyne, Hiran Region. US Africa Command said the airstrike targeted the fighters as they "were transitioning between locations in a rural area."
"We continue to support our Somali partners, especially when their operations provide us opportunities to take the fight to Al Shabaab as an element of our partnered strategy," said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, US Africa Command director of operations, in a statement.
"In the case of this strike, we interrupted an Al Shabaab attempt to mass their forces. Precision strikes eliminated a potential threat to our partners and to the people of Somalia well before the terrorists ever got themselves organized," he added.
The US military currently assesses that no civilians were killed in the strike.
The Department of Defense estimates there were 3,000 to 7,000 Al Shabaab fighters and 70 to 250 ISIS fighters in Somalia as of August 2018.
Sunday's airstrike follows four other strikes conducted over the weekend that killed two additional fighters.
There has been a significant increase in airstrikes in Somalia by the US since President Donald Trump authorized the US military to carry out precision strikes targeting Al Shabaab in March 2017 in an effort to bolster the Somali government. Prior to that, the US military was authorized to carry out airstrikes only in self-defense of advisers on the ground.
In 2018, the US conducted 47 precision airstrikes against Al Shabaab militants. In 2017, the US conducted 35 airstrikes, and in 2016 it conducted 15.
The US has approximately 500 troops in Somalia, primarily in an advisory role.