U.S. Africa Command conducted an airstrike against al-Shabab militants in Somalia on Tuesday — a strike that comes on the heels of several operations and airstrikes in Somalia last month that resulted in the destruction of two al-Shabab compounds.
"Armed over-watch and precision engagement capabilities will continue to create big-time challenges for al-Shabaab,” U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Miguel Castellanos, AFRICOM’s deputy director of operations, said in a news release Feb. 4.
Multiple strikes also occurred between Jan. 23 and Jan. 29, but the command said it did not disclose they had happened immediately due to operational security and force protection considerations. During those operations, two al-Shabab compounds in southern Somalia — one in Jamaame and another in Jilib — were demolished.
“We assess these compounds were used by al-Shabaab militants to organize and plan violent terrorist actions against innocent Somali citizens,” U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Gregory Hadfield, AFRICOM’s deputy director of intelligence, said in a news release Monday.
AFRICOM has executed a total of 10 airstrikes targeting al-Shabab militants this year in Somalia, mirroring the number of airstrikes the command conducted at this point last year. Included in that group of 10 airstrikes was one in January 2019 that killed 52 al-Shabab militants.
As a whole, the command conducted 63 airstrikes against al-Shabab and ISIS-Somalia militants in 2019, more than the 47 conducted in 2018, and the 35 conducted in 2017.
“What we do in Somalia is part training and part neighborhood watch,” AFRICOM spokesman Air Force Col. Chris Karns told Military Times. “The valued training, information, and armed over-watch we provide helps counter threats and leads to safer and more secure communities.”
Likewise, Karns also said it prevents al-Shabab from spreading into new areas of Somalia.
“In the long run, this means not only a safer Somalia and Africa, but our actions afford extended protection for America and international communities as well,” Karns said.
The series of strikes come weeks after al-Shabab militants attacked U.S. and Kenyan forces at Manda Bay Airfield in Kenya on Jan. 5. Army Spc. Henry Mayfield Jr., 23, and U.S. Department of Defense contractors Dustin Harrison, 47, and Bruce Triplett, 64, were killed in the attack.
AFRICOM officials suspect that the militants originated in Somalia but crossed over into neighboring Kenya with the help of facilitators within Kenya. Altogether, AFRICOM estimates there are between 5,000 to 7,000 al-Shabab militants in Somalia.
“Removing even one terrorist drives the risk of that bad actor from doing further harm to others to zero,” Karns said.
In total, the U.S. has roughly 6,000 Department of Defense personnel in Africa, and the command told Military Times last year between 650 and 800 U.S. forces remain in Somalia at any given time.