The U.S. military said it launched retaliatory airstrikes targeting al-Shabab militants following the group’s brazen attack on a U.S. commando outpost.
The U.S. assessed it killed 10 fighters and destroyed a vehicle after launching two airstrikes and engaging militants with small arms fire, according to a news release.
Somali-based insurgents launched attacks on Western targets across Somalia targeting a commando outpost believed to house U.S. forces, military officials said.
A suicide car bomber targeted Italian peacekeepers in Mogadishu in a separate attack. The explosion missed the convoy but wounded nearby Somali civilians.
The Somali military says it repelled the al-Shabab attack on the Baledogle airbase, which was hit by two suicide bombings and heavy gunfire.
No U.S. or partner forces were injured during the attack on the Baledogle airfield, according to a news release.
“This attack, though ineffective, demonstrates the direct threat al-Shabaab poses to Americans, our allies, and interests in the region,” Maj. Gen. William Gayler, U.S. Africa Command director of operations, said in the news release.
“Incidents like this will not compromise the pressure being placed on this terrorist network by the Federal Government of Somalia and international partners," Gayler said.
The Baledogle outpost is located in the Lower Shabelle — a region rife with Islamic militants and Shabab fighters. The base is believed to house U.S. special operations forces, a Somali commando force and a small airstrip for launching drone attacks.
Shabab claimed the responsibility for the attack against the airfield.
The U.S. has roughly 650 to 800 Defense Department personnel in Somalia, according to Lt. Cmdr. Desiree Frame, a spokeswoman for AFRICOM. That figure includes military and civilian workers.
A recent UN report said that the security situation in Somalia remains “volatile,” and noted an increase in improvised explosive attacks in July.
Airstrikes against Somali militants are up slightly compared to 2018. AFRICOM carried out 52 airstrikes in 2019 against against al-Shabab and ISIS-Somalia militants — 47 strikes were conducted in 2018, Frame said.
Those airstrikes are causing Shabab militants to alter their tactics. The UN report said Shabab fighters have increased operations in urban areas to mitigate U.S. airstrikes.
“U.S. forces, in cooperation with the government of Somalia, are conducting ongoing counter-terrorism operations to degrade the terrorist groups’ capabilities to recruit, train, and plot terror attacks in Somalia and the region,” Frame said.
Officials with AFRICOM estimate there are 5,000 to 7,000 Shabab militants and 100 to 300 ISIS-Somalia fighters in the country.
“Additionally, Al-Shabaab controls roughly 20 percent of Somalia, primarily in southern Somalia where they have maintained a historical presence,” Frame said.
Officials with AFRICOM would not confirm the presence of the Somali and American commandos at the Baledogle base, citing operational security.
But AFRICOM is assisting the Somali government in training and building a Somali special operations unit dubbed Danab — a Somali term for lighting, according to Frame.
“The Danab units are designed to provide the Somalis with both a force to take on violent extremist organizations and a professional cadre that has a longer term impact on the larger Somali National Army,” Frame explained.
AFRICOM has helped train roughly a 1,000 of the 3,000 planned special operations Danab troops, according to Frame.
The goal is to build two Danab companies a year, with a total of five battalions and a brigade headquarters element by 2027, Frame told Military Times.
“The Danab and its Soldiers are considered the “gold standard” by both the Federal Government of Somali and the Federal Member States on how integration, professionalism, and local legitimacy can provide a roadmap to help end more than 25 years of societal fracture and state collapse,” Frame said.
“At this time, the indications we’ve received on the ground are that the Somali people hold the Danab in the highest esteem as a result of these efforts; and are largely perceived as effective and clan-neutral by the Somali people,” Frame said.
ISIS has a relatively small footprint in Somalia centered around northern Puntland, and to a lesser extent, Mogadishu, according to AFRICOM.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.