American military airstrikes killed nearly 60 jihadis from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia over the last three days, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced.
According to AFRICOM, which oversees American military operations on the continent, the U.S. air campaign to degrade the al-Qaeda affiliate killed two al-Shabaab terrorists on Saturday, 35 on Sunday, and 20 on Monday, reportedly bringing the total number of jihadi fatalities to at least 200 from over 20 airstrikes so far this year.
The six airstrikes launched over the last three days targeted encampments, training camps, checkpoints used by the jihadis to collect illegal taxes, and attempts by the terrorists mass their forces.
Referring to the February 25 strike, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Gregory Hadfield, the deputy director of intelligence at AFRICOM, declared: “We are committed to supporting our Somali partners in our shared goal of diminishing al-Shabaab’s networks and disrupting its operations. This precision airstrike successfully targeted an encampment from which al-Shabaab could stage, coordinate, and execute attacks on Beledweyne.
“Degrading various facilities and checkpoints impacts al-Shabaab’s ability to finance operations, recruit, and execute operations,” Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, the director of operations at AFRICOM, added in a separate statement, referring to the four strikes on February 23 strikes
On Sunday, the U.S. military struck armed al-Shabaab jihadis as they were moving between locations.
“In the case of this strike, we interrupted an Al Shabaab attempt to mass their forces. Precision strikes eliminated a potential threat to our partners and to the people of Somalia well before the terrorists ever got themselves organized,” Gen. Olson noted about the strike on February 24.
The U.S. military airstrikes are “part of a larger effort to support the Somali National Army as it increases pressure on the terrorist network and its recruiting efforts in the region,” AFRICOM noted.
AFRICOM reported that the recent airstrikes did not kill any civilians.
Under U.S. President Donald Trump, AFRICOM has intensified its air campaign against jihadis amid an increase in terrorism on the continent, launching a record 47 airstrikes on the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia alone in 2018, more than any other year.
“Terrorists operating in Africa have… repeatedly targeted US citizens and interests,” Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton declared when announcing the president’s Africa strategy in December 2018.
Soon after his inauguration, Trump ordered the Pentagon to intensify the U.S. fight against al Shabaab. “It allows [us] to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion,” Gen. Thomas Walhauser, the chief of AFRICOM, proclaimed, referring to Trump’s orders.
In November 2018, the Pentagon said the U.S. military is expected to pull out more than 700 American troops from Africa as part of the Trump administration’s decision to prioritize efforts against strategic competitors like China and Russia.
However, a Pentagon spokesman, responding to allegations of a looming American military drawdown in Somalia, declared early this year, “There have been no recent policy changes regarding U.S. operations in Somalia. We continue to support the Federal Government of Somalia’s efforts to degrade al-Shabab.”
Moreover, Bolton indicated that the Trump administration intends to continue to ramp up U.S. military pressure on jihadi groups in Africa.
U.S. officials have also warned that China and Russia maintain a presence in Africa that threatens American interests on the continent.
The Pentagon estimated there were 3,000 to 7,000 al-Shabaab jihadis and 70 to 250 ISIS fighters in Somalia as of August 2018, the Washington Examiner reported last December. Currently, there are 500 U.S. troops in Somalia, mostly special operations forces in an advise, train, and assist role.
Late last year, the Institute for Economics and Peace’s (IEP) s Global Terrorism Index (GTI) revealed that Africa is home to half of the top ten countries with the highest number of terror-linked fatalities — Somalia, Egypt, Central African Republic, Mali, and Kenya.
The GTI report noted: The country with the largest total increase in terrorism compared to the prior year was Somalia where the number of deaths rose by 708, a 93 percent increase. The terrorist group Al-Shabaab was responsible for the single largest terrorist attack in the world in 2017, which killed 588 people and accounted for most of the increase in Somalia.
Although al-Qaeda rival the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) maintains a presence in Somalia, al-Shabaab reigns supreme over all terrorist groups in the African nation, the United Nations reports, acknowledging that both groups are expanding in the country.