U.S. Says ‘Precision Airstrikes’ Killed 62 Al-Shabab Militants In Somalia

The U.S. military says it hit the al-Shabab extremist group with six airstrikes over the weekend, killing 62 militants in an operation that targeted a camp in southern Somalia. No civilians were harmed, according to the U.S.

U.S. Africa Command says the "precision airstrikes" were conducted in close collaboration with Somalia's government. Four strikes near the town of Gandarshe on Saturday killed a total of 34 militants, and two strikes on Sunday killed 28, the U.S. says.

In recent years, al-Shabab militants have repeatedly used bombs and guns to attack hotels and busy intersections in the capital city of Mogadishu — which is roughly 30 miles northeast of the area where this weekend's strikes took place. A track bomb killed hundreds of people in the capital in October 2017; two weeks later, 23 others died in another attack.

The U.S. strikes were intended to "degrade" al-Shabab's forces, according to the military, which adds that it wants to put pressure on the terrorist group and prevent it from using "safe havens" in remote areas.

"In particular, the group uses portions of southern and central Somalia to plot and direct terror attacks, steal humanitarian aid, extort the local populace to fund its operations, and shelter radical terrorists," U.S. Africa Command said in a statement about the strikes.

The American strikes reflect an aggressive push against al-Shabab in Somalia, NPR's Eyder Peralta reports from Nairobi.

"The U.S. has been bombing the country for about a decade, but this year, there has been a big increase in airstrikes," Peralta says. "With this bombing run, the U.S. has killed more than 300 militants in Somalia this year."

Peralta adds that the weekend strikes comes at a time of political crisis for the central government in Somalia.

"Riots have broken out after a popular former al-Shabab leader was arrested," he says, "and the states are threatening a revolt against the federal government."

Amid that backdrop, U.S. Africa Command is working to help the process of transferring long-term security responsibilities to the government from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) — a peacekeeping mission that's been running since 2007.

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