U.S. Africa Command said an April 2 airstrike in Somalia killed a high-ranking and foundational member of the al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group known as al-Shabab.
The airstrike located in Bush Madina, Somalia, about 135 miles west of Mogadishu killed a total of three jihadis, including Yusuf Jiis — a Shabab leader who had held several positions and helped facilitate the jihadi group’s violent attacks throughout East Africa, AFRICOM said.
“This individual was a key leader in the al-Shabaab organization," Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the AFRICOM commander said in a news release. “He was violent, ruthless, and responsible for the loss of many innocent lives. His removal makes Somalia and neighboring countries safer.”
AFRICOM previously told Military Times it has slightly increased the pace of strikes against the Shabab militants as it sees the group as a growing threat to U.S. interests.
“While we might like to pause our operations in Somalia because of the Coronavirus, the leaders of al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab and ISIS have announced that they see this crisis as an opportunity to further their terrorist agenda so we will continue to stand with and support our African partners," Townsend said.
“I would say that the threat is higher, has been higher in the last few months than it was eight months ago when I first got to AFRICOM. That’s exactly why you’ve seen this increase in strike activity."
American warplanes are pummeling al-Shabab following a brazen raid on the Manda Bay, Kenya, airfield in January and an attack on the Baledogle air base in Somalia, which houses American commandos.
Three Americans were killed in the Manda Bay attack including a U.S. soldier. Marine Raiders whisked to the airfield beat back the attackers in an intense gun battle. The Pentagon has since decided to beef up security around the base.
Over the last several years the U.S. has steadily increased its air campaign targeting Shabab — suggesting the group is on the rise and worrying military commanders the Islamic militants may pose a significant threat outside of Somalia and the Horn of Africa.
“Al-Shabaab remains a disease in Somalia and is an indiscriminate killer of innocent people and their only desire is to brutalize populations inside Somalia and outside of Somalia," Army Maj. Gen. William Gayler, the AFRICOM director of operations, said in a news release.
“Putting pressure on this network helps contain their ambition and desire to cause harm and destruction," Gayler said.
AFRICOM said it killed five terrorists in a Monday strike targeting al-Shabab near Jilib, Somalia.
“By assisting our partners in East Africa, we diminish a serious threat to Somalia as well as to the U.S. homeland,” Col. Christopher Karns, a spokesman with AFRICOM, said in a news release.
AFRICOM said it was aware of reports of civilian casualties in Monday’s airstrike and said it would review any information it receives about the incident.
“Our efforts help to protect Somalis, Americans, and our international partners. We take this responsibility very seriously and continue to place pressure on the enemy," Karns said in the release.