The United States launched a series of airstrikes on an al-Shabab training camp in Somalia Saturday, killing more than 150 militants and averting what a Pentagon official described as an “imminent threat” posed by the group to both U.S. and African Union troops stationed in the war-torn country.
The U.S. attack, the deadliest against al-Shabab in more than a decade, involved both manned and unmanned aircraft, according to a senior defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly about the operation. There were believed to be no civilian casualties in the strike, although the Pentagon is still assessing the situation, said the official.
The strike on the camp in Raso, approximately 120 miles north of Mogadishu, is the second U.S. attack on a major terrorist training facility in less than a month. In February, a U.S. airstrike targeted an Islamic State training camp in Sabratha, Libya. A senior leader of the group, Noureddine Chouchane, and 48 other Islamic State fighters were killed.
According to the defense official, U.S. intelligence assets had been watching the camp in Somalia for several weeks prior to the strike. The site was home to a large group of fighters who were scheduled to depart in the coming days.
Last month, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for a suicide bomber attack that ripped a hole in the side of an Emirati airliner, forcing the plane to land in Mogadishu. No one was killed except the bomber. A statement from al-Shabab claimed the attack was aimed to target western and Turkish intelligence officials, and it is thought that the bomber might have been aboard the wrong plane.
“The removal of these fighters degrades al-Shabab’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Somalia, including recruiting new members, establishing bases, and planning attacks on U.S. and AMISOM forces,” said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, using an acronym for the African Union’s troops.
Along with the attack on the airliner, al-Shabab claimed last month to have ambushed and killed more than 100 Kenyan troops operating in Somalia. While disputed by the Kenyan army, the attack, if true, would be one of Shabab’s deadliest to date. Kenya currently has approximately 4,000 troops in Somalia in a bid to support African Union forces fighting in the region.
In September 2014, a series of airstrikes killed one of al-Shabab’s founders, Ahmed Abdi Godane, in an attack the Pentagon said decapitated the group’s senior leadership.
Though the United States has targeted al-Shabab since 2008, the group has remained resilient and locally active despite losing some of its senior leadership.
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