United States Defence officials confirmed on Monday that the US military had launched a missile strike in Somalia on Sunday, targeting a suspected al-Shabaab militant leader.
According to one of the officials, an unmanned drone launched the missile in the late evening hours on Sunday. The strike was carried out in the south-eastern port town of Barawe – an al-Shabaab stronghold located south of the capital, Mogadishu. Pentagon officials have stated that the target was a senior leader of both al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda. Local residents have reported that al-Shabaab commander Sahal Iskudhuq and four others were killed as they were travelling in a convoy, which was hit by the missile, adding that al-Shabaab fighters later cordoned off the area. Iskudhuq is said to be have close ties with al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane and has a large number of fighters under his control. US officials however have not made any confirmations, only indicating that “the US is assessing the results of the operation,” and that the US government has “been tracking this individual for years.” Al-Shabaab has also not commented on the incident.
The US strike comes at a time when al-Shabaab has called for renewed attacks against foreign forces, after Ethiopia joined the African Union force that is battling the militant group and US officials confirmed the deployment of troops to Somalia. In the fall of last year, the US sent a handful of military advisers to Somalia to help bolster the African Union force. The deployment marked the first stationing of US troops in Somalia since 1993, when two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down and eighteen Americans were killed. There have been no confirmations as to whether or not this team was involved in the planning of this recent military operation.
While the US has not deployed troops to Somalia since the 1993 incident, it has however carried out a number of operations that have targeted al-Shabaab commanders.
In 2008, a US air strike killed al-Shabaab commander Aden Hashi Ayro. More recently, in October 2013, US Navy SEAL Team Six aborted a pre-dawn raid in Barawe after an intense fire fight prevented them from reliably taking the suspect alive. The target of that operation was al-Shabaab commander Abdukadir Mohamed Abdukadir, alias Ikrima.