WASHINGTON — A U.S. drone strike reportedly has killed a key al-Shabab commander in southern Somalia, officials tell VOA.
Local sources said the strike on Friday targeted a vehicle in which several al-Shabab officials were traveling near Kunya Barrow village in the southern Somali region of Lower Shabelle.
“I can confirm that the airstrike happened on Friday. It was carried out by a suspected U.S. drone. The strike targeted al-Shabab officials. Our intelligence sources confirm that a top al-Shabab commander in charge of recruiting fighters for the militants was killed in the strike,” said Aden Omar, the district commissioner of Barawe town in the Lower Shabelle region.
He identified the dead officer as Abu-Xudeyfi, but local sources put his name as Sheekh Abdirahman Xudeyfi.
“The killed official was named Abu-Xudeyfi, probably his al-Shabab name; we are currently assessing if any other al-Shabab official was hit in the attack, and will provide additional information as appropriate,” said Omar.
The news of the drone strike broke on Friday as Muslims across the world, including Somalis, were celebrating the festival of Eid al-Adha – Islam’s most revered observance.
Last month, a controversial joint raid involving U.S. troops in Somalia killed at least 10 people including three children in the village of Bariire in Lower Shabelle.
The incident caused a rift between the U.S.-backed Somali government and leaders of a powerful clan that claimed innocent farmers of their own were massacred.
In July, the U.S. military in Africa killed one of the militants’ top jihadists, Ali Muhammad Hussein, known as Ali Jabal, in a “successful kinetic strike.” Jabal oversaw al-Shabab’s operations in the capital city of Mogadishu and led forces across two regions in southern Somalia.
The latest strike comes a day after the Somali government asked the United States to provide “immediate military assistance” to prevent al-Shabab from transporting uranium to Iran.
A letter from Somali Foreign Minister Yusuf Garaad Omar to U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Stephen Schwartz, widely published by the Somali media on Friday, said the militant group had captured “critical surface exposed uranium deposits” in the central Somali region of Galmudug and intend to transport the uranium to Iran.
The authenticity of the letter was confirmed to VOA’s Somali Service by the Somali ambassador to the U.S., Ahmed Isse Awad.
Months after U.S. President Donald Trump approved increased operations in Somalia, the U.S. military supporting special forces of the Somali National Army intensified its operations in the region. A U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in one of the operations in May.
Al-Shabab is waging war on the Western-backed Somali government in Mogadishu. Several dozen U.S. troops are deployed in Somalia in an advise-and-assist capacity, and U.S. security advisers regularly call in airstrikes on al-Shabab leaders and training camps.
Diplomatic leaks: UAE dissatisfied with Saudi policies
AL JAZEERA — Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) is working on breaking up Saudi Arabia, leaked documents obtained by Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar revealed.
Al Akhbar said that the leaked documents contained secret diplomatic briefings sent by UAE and Jordanian ambassadors in Beirut to their respective governments.
One of the documents, issued on September 20, 2017, disclosed the outcome of a meeting between Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon Nabil Masarwa and his Kuwaiti counterpart Abdel-Al al-Qenaie.
“The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is working on breaking up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Jordanian envoy quoted the Kuwait ambassador as saying.
A second document, issued on September 28, 2017, reveals meeting minutes between the Jordanian ambassador and his UAE counterpart Hamad bin Saeed al-Shamsi.
The document said the Jordanian ambassador informed his government that UAE believes that “Saudi policies are failing both domestically and abroad, especially in Lebanon”.
“The UAE is dissatisfied with Saudi policies,” the Jordanian envoy said.
The Qatar vote
According to the leaks, UAE ambassador claims that Lebanon voted for Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in his bid to become head of UNESCO in October 2017.
“[Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri knew Lebanon was voting for Qatar,” the UAE ambassador said in a cable sent to his government on October 18, 2017.
In November last year, Hariri announced his shock resignation from the Saudi capital Riyadh.
He later deferred his decision, blaming Iran and its Lebanese ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, for his initial resignation. He also said he feared an assassination attempt.
Officials in Lebanon alleged that Hariri was held hostage by Saudi authorities, an allegation Hariri denied in his first public statement following his resignation speech.
Somalia’s Puntland region asks UAE to stay as Gulf split deepens
BOSASO, Somalia (Reuters) – Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region urged the United Arab Emirates not to close its security operations in the country after a dispute with the central government, saying the Gulf power was a key ally in the fight against Islamist militants.
The dispute goes to the heart of an increasingly troubled relationship between Gulf states – divided by their own disputes – and fractured Somalia, whose coastline sits close to key shipping routes and across the water from Yemen.
Analysts have said the complex standoff risks exacerbating an already explosive security situation on both sides of the Gulf of Aden, where militant groups launch regular attacks.
The central Somali government said on Wednesday it was taking over a military training program run by the UAE.
Days later the UAE announced it was pulling out, accusing Mogadishu of seizing millions of dollars from a plane, money it said was meant to pay soldiers.
“We ask our UAE friends, not only to stay, but to redouble their efforts in helping Somalia stand on its feet,” said the office of the president of Puntland, a territory that sits on the tip of the Horn of Africa looking out over the Gulf of Aden.
Ending UAE support, “will only help our enemy, particularly Al Shabaab and ISIS (Islamic State),” it added late on Monday.
Watch this presser. pic.twitter.com/wEH19WsG7t
— Abdisalam Aato (@AbdisalamAato) April 16, 2018
The UAE is one of a number of Gulf powers that have opened bases along the coast of the Horn of Africa and promised investment and donations as they compete for influence in the insecure but strategically important region.
That competition has been exacerbated by a diplomatic rift between Qatar and a bloc including the UAE. In turn, those splits have worsened divisions in Somalia.
Puntland, which has said it wants independence, has sought to woo the UAE which runs an anti-piracy training center there and is developing the main port. The central government in Mogadishu last year criticized Puntland for taking sides in the Gulf dispute. Qatar’s ally Turkey is one of Somalia’s biggest investors.
One Somali government official said last week Mogadishu had decided to take over the UAE operation because the Gulf state’s contract to run it had expired. Another official said the government was investigating the money taken from the plane.
The competition among Gulf states in Somalia has fueled accusations of foreign interference and resentment in many corners of Somali society.
The loss of the UAE program could have a destabilizing effect, said one security analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The value of the UAE trained forces was two-fold – they were relatively well trained but, most importantly, they were paid on time,” unlike other parts of the security forces, the analyst told Reuters.
Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991.