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U.S. Steps Up Air Strikes Against al-Qaeda Ally in Soma...

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U.S. Steps Up Air Strikes Against al-Qaeda Ally in Somalia

A handout photo made available by the African Union-United Nations Information Support team shows a driver of a tank climbing out of his vehicle during a routine stop of the convoy on its way to the front lines in Somalia, 13 February 2013. EPA/AU UN IST PHOTO / TOBIN JONES
By Bloomberg
03 Aug 2021 0

(Bloomberg) --The U. S. is expanding air strikes against members of a group affiliated to al-Qaeda who’ve intensified attacks in Somalia since hundreds of American troops exited the country earlier this year.

By Simon Marks and Mohammed Omar Ahmed
Aug 2, 2021, 2:46 PM – Updated on Aug 3, 2021, 10:52 AM
Word Count: 604

The latest strike occurred close to the central towns of Bacadweyne and Geedaley on Aug. 1, hitting a position held by al-Shabaab militants who were engaging members of the Danab, an elite Somali commando force trained by the U.S., Somalia’s Information Ministry said.

The remote attack was the third in less than two weeks and marked an escalation in counter-terrorism operations in the Horn of Africa nation since President Joe Biden took office in January.

“The air strikes destroyed a large al-Shabaab firing position engaging Danab and Somali National Army forces as they approached,” the ministry said in a statement. An increasing number of al-Shabaab fighters had defected to join the Somali security forces as a result of the recent counter-terrorism measures, it said.

Read more: Political Crisis in Somalia Raises Security Risk For Region

The U.S. Africa Command confirmed that air strikes had been staged on July 20 and 23 and on Aug. 1.

“Due to operational security, we cannot go into details on the mechanics and process,” the command said in an emailed response to questions. “The strikes were taken to defend Somali-partner forces who had come under attack in the course of operations against al-Shabaab. There were no U.S. ground forces accompanying Somali forces during these operations.”

A spokesperson for al-Shabaab didn’t respond to questions seeking comment.

Somalimemo, a pro-al-Shabaab media outlet, reported that the latest strike had no impact and the group’s militants remained in the area. It also said that Somali forces had suffered casualties in recent clashes in central Somalia but didn’t specify how many.

Drone Strikes

Al-Shabaab has waged an insurgency in Somalia since 2006 in a bid to impose its version of Islamic law. The group has continued to carry out suicide bombings and other attacks despite being the target of frequent U.S. drone strikes, and the Somali government’s grip on power remains tenuous.

The Africa Command said its assessment showed Al-Shabaab was the largest and most active force associated with al-Qaeda in the world, and that the U.S remained committed to fighting it and other extremist groups that were undermining security and stability in Somalia.

“They have been and remain a very real and serious threat to the Somali people and they are the primary African violent extremist threat to American interests,” it said.

Fatalities linked to al-Shabaab attacks are projected to rise by 16% this year, and the number of battles with Somali security forces by 28%, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a research body within the U.S. Department of Defense.

Ethiopia Attack

Al-Shabaab activities along Somalia’s border with Ethiopia have increased of late, United Nations security documents obtained by Bloomberg show. On July 15, its forces attacked a camp belonging to special forces in Ethiopia’s Somali region, while on July 27, a group of them were spotted close to the Ethiopian town of Abaalay, according to the documents.

The U.S. began sending more troops to Somalia in mid-2017 as President Donald Trump’s administration stepped up counter-terrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa. Trump ordered most U.S. forces to leave Somalia by early 2021, saying their redeployment wouldn’t undermine the fight against terrorism.

“The recent strikes are significant as they signal the U.S. is still prepared to use air power to support Somali forces and keep the pressure on al-Shabaab, despite a six-month pause under the Biden administration,” said Omar Mahmood, a Somalia analyst with the International Crisis Group.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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