U.S. Says Somalia Airstrike Thwarts Imminent Al-Qaeda Threatby
Militants hit readying to leave training camp, Pentagon says
Al-Shabaab has killed dozens in Somalia attacks this year
A U.S. airstrike in Somalia killed al-Qaeda-linked militants who Pentagon officials said were preparing to leave a training camp and posed an “imminent threat” to American and African forces.
The attack on Saturday using manned and unmanned aircraft targeted Raso Camp, a training facility for al-Shabaab fighters, the Defense Department said in a statement.
“There was intelligence that this was a training camp, and that these fighters would soon be embarking on missions that would directly impact the U.S. and our partners,” U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday.
Sky News earlier reported that 150 al-Shabaab fighters died in the airstrike about 120 miles north of the capital, Mogadishu, citing Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis.
U.S. drone strikes have helped weaken al-Shabaab, alongside military gains that drove the militants out of Mogadishu and other central and southern regions over the past four years. The offensive on the ground has been led by Amisom, which includes forces from Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, working alongside Somalia’s national army.
An al-Shabaab spokesman cited by Al Jazeera said an attack occurred but that the Pentagon’s death toll was exaggerated. “We never gather that many of our fighters in one place,” Abdulaziz Abu Musab told the news channel. “We know the security situation.”
The militant group has been waging an insurgency in Somalia since 2006. In the first quarter of this year, it’s raided a military base used by Kenyan soldiers, claiming to have killed 100, and staged attacks in Mogadishu and the southern town of Baidoa that left at least 40 people dead. Al-Shabaab also took responsibility for the blast on a passenger plane flying out of Mogadishu in early February that forced an emergency landing.
This weekend’s operation will deal a setback for al-Shabaab in terms of its capacity to create new bases, recruit and plan attacks against U.S. and Amisom soldiers, according to the Pentagon.
The killing of 150 al-Shabaab fighters would represent the largest number of militant casualties in a single U.S. army operation since Sept. 11, 2001, according to Otso Iho, a senior analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism & Insurgency Centre.
“While Washington has said that it is still assessing the results of the attack, the airstrikes likely represent a significant blow to al-Shabaab, and may indicate the start of a renewed offensive against the group,” Iho said Tuesday in an e-mailed note.
The alleged massing of large numbers of the fighters at al-Shabaab’s camp suggested preparations for an attack on an Amisom base or a town under its control, according to Iho. He said there’s now a “heightened risk of retaliatory attacks” by the group.