U.S. airstrikes targeted Islamic extremists in Somalia on Sunday as the U.S. ramped up efforts to support the East African government in the face of brutal attacks from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab terrorist group.
The U.S. African Command said "current assessments" indicated eight militants died in the airstrikes, which appeared to be the first since President Trump gave the Pentagon the go-ahead in March to conduct actions against the ruthless group in support of partner forces in Somalia.
The strike targeted a camp about 185 miles southwest of Mogadishu. The Pentagon said the attack was coordinated with "regional partners as a direct response to al-Shabab actions, including recent attacks on Somali forces."
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said Sunday's attack destroyed an al-Shabab training base near Sakow, a provincial capital.
“This was a successful strike which destroyed a key al-Shabab command and supply hub," he said. "This will ultimately disrupt the enemy’s ability to conduct new attacks within Somalia.”
He noted that Somalis have long suffered at the hands of the militants, which he said are supported by global terror networks. He also promoted his amnesty offer, saying those who surrender can be part of his nation's "peaceful and prosperous" future.
“All of us know somebody from our youth, our village, our families, who has been killed or injured by the senseless violence," he said. "For those who have suffered under al-Shabab, and for the rest of Somalia, I want you to know that we are committed to defeating al-Shabab and uniting our people.”
The group, which wants to turn Somalia into a fundamentalist Islamic state, most recently took responsibility for an attack at a central Mogadishu hotel this month that left more than a dozen people dead.
U.S. African Command said in a statement that Sunday's airstrikes were part of an effort to curtail al-Shabab's recruitment, planning and direction of terror attacks in Africa as well as the United States. The group has "cemented its control (over) southern and central Somalia, they have used this area to plot and direct terror attacks, steal humanitarian aid and to shelter other terrorists," the statement said.
The result has been an increasingly ineffective government for 11 million Somalis already saddled with severe drought. The United Nations Food Program estimates that about a quarter of the population "cannot meet their daily food requirements" and that half the country is "food insecure."
The statement said the terror group has overrun three African Union military bases in the last eight months. As a result, al-Shabab also has increased its military strength by seizing armored vehicles, heavy weaponry, explosives, small arms, ammunition and other supplies, the command said.
"We remain committed to working with our Somali partners and allies to systematically dismantle al-Shabab, and help achieve stability and security throughout the region" the Pentagon said.
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