US Says Drone Strike Targeted Senior Shebab Leader in Somalia

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Published Wednesday, February 4, 2015

US drone aircraft allegedly targeted a senior figure in Somalia's al-Shebab militia, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, in the latest bid to take out leaders of the al-Qaeda-linked group.

US special operations forces "using unmanned aircraft and several Hellfire missiles" carried out the strike on Saturday against Shebab's chief of external operations and planning, spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters.

"We are still assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information when and if appropriate,” Kirby said.

The operation was conducted on Saturday evening south of Mogadishu. The Pentagon identified the Shebab senior figure as Yousef Dheeq.

Somali government officials and witnesses told AFP over the weekend that a house used by members of Shebab had been hit in an air raid on Saturday.

In September, Shebab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was killed in a US strike. Washington carried out another air raid in December which Somali officials said took out a top Shebab intelligence figure.

Kirby said Saturday's operation demonstrated Washington's commitment to Somalia and "it goes to show again how long our reach can be when it comes to counter-terrorism.”

If the raid proved successful, "if he no longer breathes, then this is another significant blow to al-Shebab and their ability to conduct, plan, prepare for and strike against targets inside and outside Somalia," he said.

There are roughly 100 US military advisors, mainly Green Beret special forces, deployed to Somalia to help the government in its fight against Shebab, officials said.

Shebab, which controlled Mogadishu and southern Somalia until it was driven out of the capital in 2011, has steadily lost territory since 2014, but it still launches guerrilla-style attacks on Somali army and African Union (AU) forces.

In 2014, AU forces, known as AMISOM, and Somali soldiers have recaptured swathes of territory since launching an offensive last year which the AU envoy said had driven al-Shebab from "85 percent" of areas it had controlled.

As well as guerrilla attacks in Somalia, Shebab has hit neighboring Kenya, which has sent forces to AMISOM.

Other AMISOM contributors are Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti and Ethiopia. Sierra Leone is a contributor but is pulling out, with other remaining states filling the gap.

Militants have staged repeated assaults in the heart of the government zone in the capital city of Mogadishu, including on the presidential palace, as well as on the airport, a vast base that houses several foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of the AU force.

The fighting comes as the United Nations and aid workers warn that large areas of Somalia are struggling with dire hunger and drought, three years after famine killed more than a quarter of a million people.

Somalia has remained in the grip of continuous violence since the outbreak of civil war in 1991.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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