US military targets Al-shabaab again in Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia | For the second time in two days, the United States military targeted Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, showing some signs of helping the country progress, just over eight months after unprecedented withdrawal from the Horn of Africa nation.
On Tuesday, the US Africa Command launched a deadly airstrike in Somalia in the process of helping Danab Special Forces. They were fighting the militants in the northern city of Galkayo. The Special Forces have been carrying the operations for the last couple of months.
Galmadug state in Central Somalia has been a significant target of the military, which is keen to eradicate the Al-Shabaab threat, which has grown over the years. The US is a major security partner of Somalia, which is struggling to build its military.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told VOA and other reporters traveling aboard a U.S. military aircraft with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that Friday's strike was carried out in support of Somali forces near the village of Qeycad. He said the strike was permitted by the powers granted by the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force.
Kirby added that just as with the earlier airstrike, U.S. troops were not on the ground with Somali forces but were conducting a remote advise-and-assist mission. Further information was not provided because of "operational security."
In a statement on Friday, the federal government of Somalia said the precision airstrike "destroyed al-Shabab fighters and weapons with zero civilian casualties."
"Al-Shabab's tactics are no match for the Danab [Somali special forces] and its partners," the statement added, further describing the strike as having a "crippling" impact on the al-Shabab fighters.
The resumption of U.S. airstrikes against al-Shabab comes as military and intelligence officials in the U.S. and worldwide warn of a growing threat from the al-Qaida-linked group. There were plans to redeploy the army to the Horn of Africa nation, but the Department of Defense is yet to issue a clear indication.
Late last month, AFRICOM Commander General Stephen Townsend told a virtual defense forum that the spread of terrorism "has continued relatively unabated" across Africa. He singled out al-Shabab as a significant concern.
"We see threats in Somalia to regional stability," he said. "We even see threats there to the U.S. homeland."
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Those concerns are echoed by intelligence agencies from other countries and U.N. monitors, who warned in a report released Friday that al-Shabab has been successfully exploiting a security vacuum created by the departure of U.S. troops and a partial drawdown of the African Union Mission in Somalia.
In central and southern parts of the country, al-Shabab has "encountered little resistance in capturing several towns … in areas that had previously been hostile," the report said.
The intelligence from U.N. member states also warned that al-Shabab, already able to boast of having 10,000 fighters under its command, is gaining more advanced military capabilities.
The group "has significantly increased its use of drones to conduct reconnaissance flyovers and record the activities of security forces," the report said, warning that al-Shabab may soon start weaponizing the drones as well.
Some intelligence agencies voiced fears that the drones could be used to supplement al-Shabab's portable air defense systems in potential attacks on low-flying aircraft and aviation infrastructure along the border with Kenya. The area has served as a critical corridor for humanitarian flights and commercial aircraft.
Earlier this year, some Somalis voiced concerns that the pause in U.S. airstrikes was serving to embolden al-Shabab, allowing key leaders to come out of hiding and their fighters to mass in more significant numbers without fear.