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U.S. Carries Out Drone Strike Against Shabab Militants in Somalia

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WASHINGTON — The United States military said on Monday that it had carried out a drone strike in Somalia against the Shabab, the Qaeda-linked insurgent group, in the second such strike since President Trump relaxed targeting rules for counterterrorism operations in that country in March.

The strike, which took place about 2:30 p.m. local time on Sunday, came three months after Mr. Trump cleared the way for offensive strikes, even without a specific self-defense rationale, in Somalia, a chaotic nation in the Horn of Africa.

“We are currently assessing the results of the operation, and will provide additional information as appropriate,” Maj. Audricia Harris, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said in an email on Monday.

American officials have said in recent weeks that the military would carry out strikes against elements of the Shabab that plotted attacks, trained militants, stored munitions or other supplies, or other targets that supported and sustained the militancy.

“U.S. forces remain committed to supporting the Federal Government of Somalia, the Somali National Army and our Amisom partners in defeating al-Shabaab and establishing a safe and secure environment in Somalia,” Major Harris said.

Amisom is a coalition of East African nations, including Kenya and Uganda, that has served as an American-backed African Union ground force combating the Shabab in Somalia for the past several years.

Three weeks ago, the Pentagon conducted a drone strike against a command and logistics portion of a Shabab camp about 185 miles southwest of Mogadishu, the capital, killing eight militants, officials said.

The American military’s Africa Command described that camp as part of a broader Shabab stronghold from which the group has launched attacks, including operations over the last nine months in which it overran three African Union bases for peacekeeping soldiers from Burundi, Kenya and Uganda, and seized military weapons.

American officials did not immediately comment on details of Sunday’s drone strike or on its location or a description of what was hit, although a military official said the attack was similar to the one in mid-June.

That attack was carried out by at least one armed Reaper drone flying from a secretive air base in Djibouti. The Reaper dropped multiple Hellfire missiles on the Shabab camp, which American military surveillance aircraft had been monitoring for months.

The United States military has been training and advising African Union and Somali government forces in the country while becoming more directly involved in its civil war for the past several years. In May, two members of an American Navy SEAL team were wounded and one was killed while accompanying Somali forces on a raid against Shabab militants, the first American combat fatality in Somalia since the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” battle in Mogadishu.

Soon after Mr. Trump took office, the Defense Department proposed an escalation of force against the Shabab. The Pentagon wanted Mr. Trump to declare parts of Somalia to be an area of active hostilities, exempting it from the need to obey special targeting limits, known as the Presidential Policy Guidance, that President Barack Obama imposed in 2013 for counterterrorism strikes outside conventional war zones.

In late March, Mr. Trump signed off on the Pentagon’s proposal to exempt much of Somalia from the 2013 limits, clearing the way for the American military to carry out purely offensive strikes, and without going through interagency vetting.

But the head of Africa Command, Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, has said that he is exercising caution in using his new authorities, and that he had decided to keep the standard of near certainty that there would be no civilian deaths.

Against that backdrop, months passed without Africa Command carrying out strikes under the new authorities — until the strikes last month and again on Sunday.

Somali News

US-backed Somalia commandos kill 4 al-Shabab extremists

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MOGADISHU, Somalia — Somali and U.S. commandos stormed a camp for al-Shabab extremist fighters in an overnight raid, killing at least four of the fighters and rescuing child conscripts, a Somali intelligence official said Friday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said special forces raided the camp in Jame’o village in Middle Shabelle region. A local commander was among those killed, he said.

A second official confirmed the raid, which was carried out with the support of helicopters that later evacuated the young recruits.

Human Rights Watch earlier in the week accused al-Shabab of the forced recruitment of hundreds of children in recent months. The recruitment of children is a long-standing practice of the al-Qaida-linked group which faces growing military pressure across south and central Somalia.

It was not immediately clear how many children were rescued during the overnight raid.

Also on Friday, the U.S. military said it had carried out an airstrike in Somalia that killed four members of the al-Shabab extremist group.

A statement from the U.S. Africa Command said the strike was carried out Thursday about 50 kilometers (31 miles) northwest of the port city of Kismayo. The statement said no civilians were killed.

The U.S. military carried out more than 30 drone strikes last year in the long-chaotic Horn of Africa nation after President Donald Trump approved expanded military efforts against al-Shabab.

The extremist group was blamed for the October truck bombing in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, that killed 512 people. Thursday’s U.S. airstrike was the first since one early this month that killed two al-Shabab extremists and destroyed a vehicle carrying explosives, “preventing it from being used against the people in Mogadishu.”

Last year, Somalia’s Somali-American president vowed that his government would drive the extremist group out of the country.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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UPDATE: Somali authorities say troops rescue 32 children from “terrorist school”

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MOGADISHU, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Somali authorities said troops stormed a school run by al Shabaab on Thursday night and rescued 32 children who had been taken as recruits by the Islamist militant group.

“The 32 children are safe and the government is looking after them. It is unfortunate that terrorists are recruiting children to their twisted ideology,” Abdirahman Omar Osman, information minister for the Somali federal government, told Reuters on Friday.

“It showed how desperate the terrorists are, as they are losing the war and people are rejecting terror.”

Al Shabaab said government forces, accompanied by drones, had attacked the school in Middle Shabelle region. It said four children and a teacher were killed.

The Somali government said no children were killed in the rescue.

“They kidnapped the rest of the students,” said Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military spokesman.

“Human Rights Watch is responsible for the deaths of the students and their teacher because it pointed fingers at them,” he added.

In a report this week, the New York-based rights group said that since September 2017, al Shabaab had ordered village elders, teachers in Islamic religious schools, and rural communities to hand over hundreds of children as young as eight.

The U.S. Africa Command said it had carried out an air strike on Thursday against al Shabaab targets 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Somalia’s port city of Kismayo, killing four militants. U.S. forces regularly launch such aerial assaults.

The al Shabaab militia, linked to al Qaeda, is fighting to topple the U.N.-backed Somali government and establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islam’s sharia law.

Somalia has been plagued by conflict since the early 1990s, when clan-based warlords overthrew authoritarian ruler Mohamed Siad Barre then turned on each other.

In recent years, regional administrations headed by the Mogadishu-based federal government have emerged, and African Union peacekeepers supporting Somali troops have gradually clawed back territory from the Islamist insurgents.

(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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Somali News

Somali Army Reports Killing 7 al-Shabab Militants

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The Somalia national army killed at least seven al-Shabab militants Thursday and destroyed their base during an operation in southern Somalia, officials and residents said.

Somali army General Ismail Sahardid, the 43rd Infantry Division commander, told VOA Somali that the forces took control of Bar-Sanguni town, 45 kilometers (28 miles) south of the coastal city of Kismayo.

“Our army launched a surprise attack on the militants’ hideouts late Wednesday and continued pursing them since the early hours of Thursday,” Sahardid said. “During the operation we killed seven of the militants, including local leaders of al-Shabab’s Amniyat unit, responsible for the group’s intelligence.”

The general said that despite initial resistance, his forces destroyed several of the militants’ bases and vehicles they have been using to transport fighters, and they recovered ammunition.

“We have inflicted heavy military losses on them and captured two of their vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft machine guns,” Sahardid said.

Bar-Sanguni residents who spoke to VOA Somali on condition of anonymity said they heard explosions as government soldiers engaged in a gunbattle with the militants for several hours early Thursday.

“It was around just before dawn Thursday morning when the Somali army entered the town. We first heard a fierce exchange of heavy gunfire and explosions,” one resident said.

“As the day wore on, we saw government soldiers taking strategic positions in the town and searching the al-Shabab military bases, with seven dead bodies of the militants lying in the streets,” another resident said.

Bar-Sanguni, under al-Shabab control for many years, is where the militant group has been organizing guerrilla attacks against government soldiers and Kenyan troops serving under the African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) in Jubaland state.

Tax on residents

Sahardid said the militants in this area have been imposing zakat, or a tax, on the local population.

“We have freed the local civilians who have been suffering under the militants’ harsh control, where they have been extorting their money and their livestock through what they call zakat,” said Sahardid.

The operation came as Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Michael Keating, U.N. special representative for Somalia, hailed the completion of a power-sharing agreement signed in December between Galmudug state and the Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a.

Ahlu Sunna is a moderate group that was founded to promote Sufi Islam in Somalia, which decided years ago to take up arms against the radical al-Shabab group, which is believed to be linked al-Qaida.

In an event held Thursday in the central Somali town of Dhuusa Marreeb — attended by Somalia federal and regional leaders and foreign diplomats — Galmudug state President Ahmed Duale Ghelle “Xaaf” and Ahlu Sunna leader Sheikh Shakir vowed to join forces in the fight against al-Shabab.

Under the power-sharing agreement, Sheikh Shakir will be the executive leader of Galmudug state.

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