The US conducted a targeted airstrike Sunday against a regional commander of the al-Shabaab militant group, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, according to two US defense officials.
The officials confirmed that this is the second airstrike to take place in Somalia since President Donald Trump granted military commanders in Africa Command new authorities to conduct airstrikes in support of African Union and Somali troops fighting al-Shabaab.
The new authorities were bestowed in March.
A spokesperson for the Pentagon confirmed the strike on Monday.
“US forces conducted a kinetic strike operation against al-Shabaab,” US Army Maj. Audricia Harris told CNN.
While Harris said that the military is “currently assessing the results of the operation,” officials told CNN that the commander, Ahmed Osoble, is initially believed to have been killed.
The strike took place in the Banadir region of southern Somalia, one official said.
Osoble was described as a “regional commander” of al-Shabaab, with one official saying he was responsible for gathering intelligence on US forces in Somalia.
“US forces remain committed to supporting the federal government of Somalia, the Somali National Army and our AMISOM partners in defeating al-Shabaab,” Harris added, referring to the African Union mission there.
Al-Shabaab is considered al Qaeda’s third largest affiliate. The group has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in Somalia and the wider region.
The counterterrorism strikes come as US military leaders see new opportunities to work with Somalia’s newly elected president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, a dual US-Somali citizen who has embarked on a series of aggressive military reforms amid an ongoing al-Shabaab bombing campaign that has repeatedly struck the capital, Mogadishu.
About 40 US soldiers arrived in Somalia in April to help train the Somali National Army. They joined about 50 counterterrorism military Special Operations Forces advisers who have been advising local forces battling al-Shabaab since 2013.
One of those advisers, US Navy SEAL Senior Chief Kyle Milliken, was killed while accompanying local troops on a counterterrorism raid during an operation in May. He was the first US service member killed in action in Somalia since 1993, when two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down and 18 American soldiers were killed in the Battle for Mogadishu.
Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who oversees US troops in Africa, told reporters in April that the US seeks to help Somali security forces gain the ability to provide for their own security by 2021.