US airstrike targets Al-Shabaab headquarters in southern Somalia
WASHINGTON - The US Africa Command has confirmed an airstrike against Al-Shabaab militants, targeting the group's headquarters in the Middle Juba region, just a few hours after the extremists released an undated video of the commander addressing the media over current affairs.
In a statement, the US Africa Command said the airstrike was conducted in Jilib town which. The federal government of Somalia troops also participated in the raid, the command confirmed.
"The command's initial assessment is that no civilians were injured or killed," the statement said while confirming the Saturday airstrike which comes just before the Somali National Army [SNA] start operations against the group in Jubaland and Southwest.
When such airstrikes take place, the US military usually targets senior Al-Shabaab commanders or acts in response to assistance calls from the Somali army or those serving in African Union Transition Mission in Somalia [ATMIS]. However, the US is yet to indicate the motives of the airstrike.
Jilib, 385 kilometers [239 miles] southwest of Mogadishu, is an al-Shabab stronghold. The airstrike also coincides with Somalia National Intelligence Security Agency [NISA] director Mahad Salad's trip to the US where he is meeting senior security officials.
The talks focused on security and counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries, the source added. Also, the airstrike came a few hours before the Al-Shabaab released a video purportedly of the chief commander Ahmed Diriye alias Ahmed Umar and Abu Ubaidah addressing the media.
In the video, several other top leaders of the group are appearing in a "delegates' conference" with traditional elders and scholars conspicuously present. The group's media reported that the meeting, titled "Jihad in East Africa," took place from May 8 to 15. The group has not disclosed where the meeting took place, VOA reports.
In the video, Diriye, whose face is blurred, comments on the military offensive by the Somali government and local Ma'awisley fighters that drove al-Shabab from vast territories in Hirshabelle and Galmudug states. Diriye claimed the offensive, which started last August and continued until earlier this year, has "failed."
However, the government of Somalia maintains that the operation was a huge success with the military managing to kill over 3,000 Al-Shabaab militants.
The second phase of operations is set to kick off soon, but the US is also keen to capture Diriye, who has a $10 million bounty on his head. He replaced Ahmed Godane who was killed in a US airstrike in 2014.