An American airstrike in northeastern Somalia has killed the deputy leader of the Islamic State group in the country, U.S. officials said Monday.
Abdulhakim Dhuqub, who was responsible for the extremist group’s daily operations, attack planning and resource procurement, was killed in the vicinity of Xiriiro, in the Bari region, on Sunday.
The U.S. military has been supporting the government of Somalia as it increases the competency of its security forces and pushes back against extremist groups in the country.
U.S. Africa Command said that precision airstrikes support Somali security forces and allow time and space for governance to grow in the country.
“We continue to work with our Somali partners to keep pressure on the al-Shabab and ISIS-Somalia terror networks," said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, U.S. Africa Command director of operations. “When it supports the strategy, we use precision airstrikes to target those who plan and carry out the violent extremist activities that put Somalis at risk.”
The airstrikes help to create “organizational confusion within the terrorist networks in Somalia," according to Air Force Col. Chris Karns, an AFRICOM spokesman.
“By consistently placing pressure on the terror networks, it keeps them off balance and reflects the federal government of Somalia’s commitment to enhancing stability and security for the Somali people,” he told Air Force Times. “Various levels of leadership within the terror networks are effectively being targeted and removed from doing further harm to innocent Somalis.”
The strike occurred in an autonomous region of northern Somalia known as Puntland. Most airstrikes have taken place in the southern part of the country. ISIS-Somalia is primarily active in Puntland and is estimated to have roughly 300 members.
ISIS-Somalia is a splinter group of al-Shabab, a group the U.S. says is aligned with al-Qaida and that is also active in Somalia.
At this time, AFRICOM is assessing that the airstrike killed only Dhuqub and destroyed one vehicle.
“Currently, we assess no civilians were injured or killed as a result of this airstrike,” officials said in a statement. “Our process and procedures allow for additional information to inform post-strike analysis.”
U.S. airstrikes killed two civilians in an airstrike on a vehicle on April 1, 2018, in central Somalia. That revelation came after AFRICOM self-reported that an error had been made roughly a year after the strike first occurred.
So far, that civilian casualty is the only such incident that has come to light.
Since 2007, the U.S. has conducted airstrikes to kill militants in Somalia, but the number of strikes per year was never more than three. Beginning in 2016, airstrikes in Somalia spiked to 15. In 2018, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal cataloged 47 strikes in-country.
AFRICOM is working with the African Union Mission to Somalia to build the federal government’s capabilities and expand state security.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.