U.S. Africa Command conducted two airstrikes in Somalia on Thursday against al-Shabab explosives experts — bringing the total number of strikes the command has conducted in Somalia this year to 50.

The command’s initial assessment is that the strike killed eight al-Shabab terrorists and injured another two, AFRICOM spokesman Air Force Col. Chris Karns told Military Times. AFRICOM said in a news release those targeted were “known to play important roles” in producing explosives like vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices for al-Shabab, and noted that the devices are often employed against civilians.

The command said that it does not assess that any civilians were harmed during the strikes.

“This strike should demonstrate to any enemy that we stand by our partners and will vigorously defend both ourselves and our partners during this repositioning and future operations,” Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, Joint Task Force - Quartz commander, said in an AFRICOM news release. “We will continue to maintain strong force protection and strike those who seek to harm us or our partners.”

AFRICOM has conducted slightly fewer airstrikes in Somalia in 2020 than it did in 2019. Last year the command carried out 63 airstrikes in Somalia, in comparison with the 47 conducted in 2018 and the 35 conducted in 2017.

The most recent strikes came days after the Pentagon unveiled plans to remove a “majority” of the 700 U.S. troops currently in Somalia from the country and relocate them by early 2021. The Pentagon stressed that the U.S. was not pulling out of Africa or that the shift signified a change in U.S. policy.

“As a result of this decision, some forces may be reassigned outside of east Africa,” the Pentagon said in a statement on Dec. 4. “However, the remaining forces will be repositioned from Somalia into neighboring countries in order to allow cross-border operations by both U.S. and partner forces to maintain pressure against violent extremist organizations operating in Somalia.”

“The U.S. will retain the capability to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations in Somalia, and collect early warnings and indicators regarding threats to the homeland,” the Pentagon said.

Karns told Military Times “a partner-centric model and approach to security in east Africa remains intact,” and AFRICOM has asserted it will continue the same tasks as it previously has done in Somalia.

Karns did not disclose specifics about troop movements to Military Times, citing operation security concerns, but said the repositioning will be “done in a deliberate, conditions-based manner.

“Our presence in Somalia will decrease significantly but U.S. forces will remain in the region and our tasks and commitment to partners remain unchanged,” Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said in a statement to Military Times.

“The U.S. remains committed to our work in east Africa and Somalia, to include building and maintaining regional security, continuing to observe and intensify pressure on al-Qaida’s franchise al-Shabab and advancing mutual interests with our east African partners,” Townsend said.

In total, the U.S. has approximately 6,000 Defense Department personnel in the African continent.

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