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US airstrikes cover Somalia military operations against al-Shabaab stronghold

AFRICOM says no civilian casualties resulted from the strikes in Jilib and Jamaame

The U.S. conducted a series of airstrikes at the end of January in support of Somali federal government troops fighting suspected al-Shabaab militants in the country’s south, AFRICOM said.

“As a result of these operations we currently assess that one al-Shabaab terrorist was killed in the vicinity of Jilib and two al-Shabaab compounds were destroyed; one in Jamaame and one in Jilib,” Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield said on Monday, January 3.

“We assess these compounds were used by al-Shabaab militants to organize and plan violent terrorist actions against innocent Somali citizens,” Hadfield said.

AFRICOM claimed to have killed one Shabaab figure in an airstrike on Sunday in the vicinity of Jilib, a farming town on the Jubba river around 320 km (200 miles) southwest of the capital, Mogadishu, a stronghold of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militant group.

Somali government spokesperson Ismael Mukhtar told The Defense Post that the U.S. carried out airstrikes “inside the al-Shabaab held city of Jilib,” adding that one Shabaab member was believed killed and another wounded.

Last Wednesday, Mukhtar said a U.S. airstrike destroyed an al-Shabaab compound inside Jilib, but did not mention any casualties. AFRICOM did not announce that strike.

AFRICOM said last Monday that an airstrike killed one Shabaab figure in the vicinity of Jilib.

“Removal of even one terrorist makes the region and the U.S. safer,” Major General William Gayler said in a press release about Sunday’s strike. “Continuous pressure on the network is necessary to prevent al-Shabaab from building a safe haven and exporting violence.”

The U.S. is training and supporting the Somali National Army’s Danab, or “lightning,” forces as well as Kenyan troops across the border as part of the African Union’s mission against al-Shabaab, known as AMISOM.

Meanwhile, AFRICOM conducts air and drone strikes to kill Shabaab leaders.

“The two major tasks that we’re doing is helping to train a specific part of the Somalia National Army … and we’re also doing the counterterrorism strikes,” AFRICOM’s commander, General Stephen Townsend told Congress last week.

“I don’t believe it’s whack-a-mole,” Townsend replied to a senator’s question.

The U.S. regularly reports zero civilian casualties from strikes in Somalia, claims which are notoriously hard to independently verify.

Amnesty International has reported civilian casualties from the strikes, which have soared since President Donald Trump declared southern Somalia an “area of active hostilities” in April 2017, according to the rights group.

U.S. military officials have said al-Shabaab coerces the local population to lie about civilian deaths,  but have admitted that it is difficult to verify casualty assessments in the rural country.

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 significant rural areas and remains the key threat to peace in Somalia and carries out attacks in neighboring Kenya.

The Pentagon is currently reviewing global operations including its AFRICOM, and is considering a potential drawdown in the 5,100 U.S. troops in Africa in order to focus on Russia and China.

Africa offers US a ‘competitive edge’ over Russia and China, Townsend says

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