Heavy Shabaab casualties as US steps up drone attacks

What you need to know:

  • US forces “conducted a series of strikes against Al-Shabaab” during the past week, a spokesman for the US Africa Command said on Friday in an email message.
  • Kenya has mounted an unprecedented security operation in Nairobi, in cooperation with the US Secret Service and other agencies, to guard against a Shabaab attack during Mr Obama’s visit.
  • The strikes near Baraawe were ordered after US surveillance drones spotted large numbers of Shabaab fighters gathering in the area, the newspaper reported.

The United States has stepped up its military operations inside Somalia as President Barack Obama tours Eastern Africa on a four-day visit.

US forces “conducted a series of strikes against Al-Shabaab” during the past week, a spokesman for the US Africa Command said on Friday in an email message.

The attacks, reportedly by drones, were carried out in defence of troops affiliated with the African Union mission in Somalia (Amisom), added spokesman Patrick Barnes.

“The strikes prevented attacks by militants, which posed a significant threat to friendly forces,” Mr Barnes told the Sunday Nation.

Kenya has mounted an unprecedented security operation in Nairobi, in cooperation with the US Secret Service and other agencies, to guard against a Shabaab attack during Mr Obama’s visit.

The militant group is simultaneously coming under heavy fire in Somalia.

A joint offensive recently launched by Amisom and the Somalia national army resulted in the capture of two towns near the Kenyan border, Dinsor and Bardhere, that had been under Shabaab’s control.

The port city of Baraawe, one of Shabaab’s last strongholds, is now being targeted by Kenyan troops and other units under Amisom’s command.

As many as six US drone strikes were launched near Baraawe in the past week, the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday. Those attacks represented a shift in US military operations in Somalia, according to an anonymous US military official quoted in the LA Times account.

“It’s a change in how we’re providing support,” the official said. “Up until now, we’ve focused strikes on high-value targets. These strikes were launched to defend forces on the ground.”

The strikes near Baraawe were ordered after US surveillance drones spotted large numbers of Shabaab fighters gathering in the area, the newspaper reported.

“They’re massing, and massing provides targets, and targets get struck,” a source described as a senior US official told the Times.

The latest drone attacks are taking place in the context of a growing US military presence on the ground in Somalia.

The CIA is reported to conduct operations from a sizable counter-terrorism installation at the Mogadishu airport, where other US personnel are also based.

An unspecified number of US Special Operations forces are also operating in Somalia in support of Amisom.

Drone strikes reportedly carried out from the large US military base in Djibouti and from other locations have taken a heavy toll on Shabaab’s leadership.

Ahmed Abdi Godane, the top militant commander, was killed last September. Two other high-ranking Shabaab operatives, Yusuf Dheeq and Adan Garar, were killed this year.

The strikes will continue, Africa Command spokesman Barnes pledged on Friday.

The US will act to “deny safe havens to al-Qaida and its associates and prevent their ability to train, equip, operate and plan attacks on the United States and its partners,” Mr Barnes said.

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