The Cable

150 Killed in Massive U.S. Airstrike in Somalia

In the biggest airstrike in recent memory, American bombs obliterate al-Shabab training camp

Somali soldiers and resident stand near wreckage car and buildings on February 27, 2016, in Mogadishu, Somalia.
At least 14 people were killed on February 26 as twin blasts and gunfire rocked a hotel and neighbouring park in central Mogadishu, police said, in an attack claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants. / AFP / MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB        (Photo credit should read MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images)
Somali soldiers and resident stand near wreckage car and buildings on February 27, 2016, in Mogadishu, Somalia. At least 14 people were killed on February 26 as twin blasts and gunfire rocked a hotel and neighbouring park in central Mogadishu, police said, in an attack claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants. / AFP / MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB (Photo credit should read MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images)

In one of the deadliest U.S. airstrikes in recent memory, American warplanes and drones killed as many as 150 al-Shabab militants at their training base in Somalia over the weekend, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis confirmed the strike relied on multiple manned and unmanned aircraft, and said a large group of the fighters at the camp “posed an imminent threat to U.S. and African Union” forces in Somalia. The U.S. military had monitored the camp for weeks before the strike, which was launched after new evidence indicated the militants were preparing to carry out an attack — likely on African Union peacekeepers and the U.S. Special Operations forces in country to train and advise them.

Davis said about 200 fighters were at the camp, “and we believe most were killed.” So far, there is no evidence of civilian casualties, he said. The strike occurred at the Raso training camp approximately 120 miles north of Mogadishu. Pentagon officials would not comment on the specific type of aircraft used.

At the height of its power in Somalia, al-Shabab controlled the embattled capital city for years before finally being pushed out by African Union peacekeeping forces in 2011. But the group has taken refuge in the countryside, from where it has launched a series of deadly attacks on government and peacekeeping forces as it tries to weaken international resolve supporting Somali leaders.

The militants also have attacked neighboring countries Kenya and Uganda, which are the primary contributors of troops to the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia.

Within Somalia, the attacks have proven particularly deadly for Kenyan peacekeepers this year. Kenyan troops were forced to pull out of two towns in southern Somalia in January after militant activity ramped up. That withdrawal that came days after al-Shabab overran another base in southern Somalia, killing dozens of Kenyan soldiers.

The latest strike comes several months after a more targeted operation in December, in which U.S. bombs killed three al-Shabab fighters, one of which was identified as senior leader Abdirahman Sandhere.

While al-Shabab has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, the rise of the Islamic State in North Africa has emerged as a particular focus for Washington. Last month, U.S. jets took out a key Tunisian Islamic State recruiter operating in Libya, in hopes of blunting ISIS’s recruiting prowess along the Mediterranean coast.

Over the weekend, Tunisian forces killed about 21 suspected ISIS militants who attacked an army base and a police station in the eastern town of Ben Guerdane after the fighters crossed the border from Libya. Given the relative stability of Tunisia, and the ties the government in Tunis has formed with Washington and several European countries, the strike was likely aimed as much at protecting Tunisia as it was halting the flow of foreign fighters into Libya.

American officials have expressed willingness to sell military equipment — such as helicopters and intelligence-gathering drones — to Tunisia. Additionally, several European countries recently said they are open to begin training Tunisian and Libyan troops if a unity government can form in Tripoli.

 

Photo Credit: MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB/AFP/Getty Images

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