WASHINGTON – US forces in Africa killed an al-Shabaab leader in Somalia over the weekend in what was at least the sixth airstrike since President Biden reversed former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the American military from the east African nation.
The strike, which happened near the southwestern city of Jilib, took out the unnamed leader of the group known as the “largest and most kinetically active al Qaeda network in the world,” according to the Monday announcement by the military’s Africa Command.
“[al-Shabaab] has proved both its will and capability to attack U.S. forces and threaten U.S. security interests,” a statement from the command said. “US Africa Command, alongside its partners, continues to take action to prevent this malicious terrorist group from planning and conducting attacks on civilians.”
Al-Shabaab is the militant wing of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts, which controlled the southern part of the country in late 2006, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. While the council was defeated in 2007, al-Shabaab has continued its violent insurgency since then.
Trump in December 2020 ordered US troops out of Somalia in favor of moving them to other African countries and beginning rotating training missions. During that year, US troops had launched 63 strikes against the militant group.
In March of this year, then-AFRICOM leader Army Gen. Stephen Townsend likened the move to having troops “commuting to work” during testimony at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
“I believe my assessment is that it [the strategy] is not effective,” Townsend said. “We are marching in place at best – we may be backsliding,”
Biden reversed Trump’s order later in the spring after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requested a return to Somalia out of “concern for the safety of our troops who have incurred additional risk by deploying in and out of Somalia on an episodic basis,” then-Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in May.
Saturday’s strike is not believed to have injured or killed any civilians, but the US will “continue to assess the results of the operation, AFRICOM said.
“U.S. Africa Command takes great measures to prevent civilian casualties,” the command said. “Protecting innocent civilians remains a vital part of the command’s operations to promote a more secure and stable Africa.”
The strike took place in coordination with the Somalian government in Mogadishu, according to AFRICOM.
“Somalia remains key to the security environment in East Africa,” the command said. “U.S. Africa Command’s forces will continue training, advising, and equipping partner forces to give them the tools that they need to degrade al-Shabaab.”