By Carla Babb, Jeff Seldin, Harun Maruf
July 23, 2021
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) carried out another airstrike in Somalia Friday, the second under the Biden administration after a nearly six-month hiatus from targeting the al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabab and Islamic State terror group.
The U.S. military strike targeted al-Shabab in the vicinity of Qeycad, Galmudug, Somalia, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed to VOA and other reporters traveling aboard a U.S. military aircraft with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Friday’s strike supported partner forces “under collective self-defense,” Kirby said, adding that U.S. troops were not on the ground with Somali forces but were conducting a remote advise and assist mission with them. Further information was not provided due to “operational security.”
A statement issued earlier Friday by the Somali government said the precision airstrike “destroyed al-Shabab fighters and weapons with zero civilian casualties.”
“Al-Shabab’s tactics are no match for the Danab (Somali special forces) and its partners,” the statement added, further describing the strike as having a “crippling” impact on the Shabab fighters.
The U.S. strike against al-Shabab is the second in the past four days and follows a growing number of warnings from the U.S. and its partners about the growing threat from the al-Qaida linked group.
The U.S. carried out 63 airstrikes against al-Shabab in 2019 and 53 airstrikes in 2020.
Another seven airstrikes were launched in the first two-and-a-half weeks of 2021, before former U.S. President Donald Trump left office.
Stephen Schwartz, the U.S. ambassador to Somalia from 2016 to 2017, told VOA that airstrikes against al-Shabab and IS have “limited or modest value” in the overall fight against extremists, but they are extremely useful “in keeping al-Shabab on its back foot.”
“With no airstrikes for months and months, I would imagine al-Shabab is more relaxed, but also more able to do the things they couldn’t, whether it’s mobility, training more in the open, just lots of things that could make them more effective,” said Schwartz.
Some Somali military officers have also expressed concerns, telling VOA that while airstrikes can be helpful, they need additional support, including better weaponry and supplies to fight al-Shabab on the ground.
“African-based VEOs, like Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab and ISIS, thrive in the continent’s ungoverned spaces, provide the greatest threat to many of our African partners, and aspire to kill Americans in Africa as well as at home,” AFRICOM commander Gen. Stephen Townsend told members of the House Armed Services Committee in April, using an acronym for the Islamic State terror group.