U.S. Africa Command carried out an airstrike against suspected al-Shabaab militants in support of Somali government forces who came under attack west of Mogadishu on Friday, January 3.
AFRICOM initially assessed that three Shabaab militants were killed in the strike, and no civilians were wounded.
A Somali federal government spokesperson told The Defense Post that Shabaab militants “attacked Danab and Somali National Army (SNA) forces conducting patrols near the town of Bariire, around 45 km west of Mogadishu.”
The SNA’s Danab (Lightning) brigade is a commando unit credited with a number of successes recapturing territory from al-Shabaab.
“Somali security forces continue to lead operations alongside African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces to increase security and seize ground from the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Shabaab,” AFRICOM’s press release on the strike read.
Moqdishu Online quoted a 16th Somali Special Forces commander on Friday as saying his forces had killed 20 Shabaab fighters and recaptured a number of villages in the lower Shabelle region. A government spokesperson told The Defense Post that operation was not in the same area as the airstrike.
The U.S. has about 500 troops in Somalia in support of the federal government’s fight against al-Shabaab.
U.S. forces use the Baledogle (or Ballidoogle) airfield, in the Wanlawayn district roughly 95 km (60 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu, to launch drone strikes on al-Shabaab militants and to train Somali commandoes for counter-terrorism missions.
Shabaab has fought for more than a decade to topple the Somali government. The army, which largely relies on African Union Mission in Somalia forces for military support, is regularly targeted.
The Shabaab was routed from Mogadishu in 2011 by the 22,000-strong AMISOM mission, and has had to abandon most of its strongholds, but it still controls vast rural areas and remains the key threat to peace in Somalia and carries out attacks in neighboring Kenya.
U.S. strikes in Somalia surged after President Donald Trump declared southern Somalia an “area of active hostilities” in April 2017, according to rights group Amnesty International.
Shabaab militants attacked the U.S. base at Baledogle and European troops based nearby with vehicle bombs in September.