SAN ANTONIO — American military units provided defensive fire at least four times in May for U.S. and African peacekeeping forces fighting al-Shabab militants in Somalia, the U.S. Africa Command announced Friday.

The strikes were carried out in early May, with the latest strike occurring May 13, targeting nine al-Shabab militants. Three of them were allegedly killed. All four of the strikes occurred in remote areas under militant control, according to the news release.

It was not immediately clear whether U.S. troops were in imminent danger on the ground when the strikes occurred, or what types of aircraft were used in the strikes.

Friday’s announcement comes nine days after U.S. Africa Command said strikes killed two al-Shabab commanders in separate incidents. The command said it was confident near-term planning for the group would be eroded due to the loss of those strategic leaders, according to a news release.

U.S. special operations forces have been active in the region.

The last prominent attack on al-Shabab in Somalia took place in March, when a series of airstrikes killed more than 150 militants at a training camp to head off an “imminent threat” to U.S. troops and allies there, according to the Washington Post. Also in March, commandos conducted a helicopter raid with Somali troops against the militant network but acted in an advisory role, according to Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

In 2013, Navy SEALs assaulted the coastal town of Barawe but were forced to leave following a fierce gun battle that produced no fatalities, according to the Washington Post.

Al-Shabab fighters have been pushed out of cities in recent years, including the capital, Mogadishu, which it retreated from in 2011. A territorial map of the region provided by BBC in September 2015 shows al-Shabab’s area of influence stretches in a crescent-like shape from the southern tip of the country bordering Kenya, up through its lower southern region, skirting Mogadishu.

In January, U.S. Africa Command provided details of its five-year plan to counter growing terror threats in its area of operations. Neutralizing al-Shabab’s influence and shifting more responsibility to the African Union Mission in Somalia was the first objective, according to a news release at that time.

Al-Shabab, which translates to “the youth,” was formed in the early 2000s with the intent to overthrow Somalia’s Western-backed government and implement strict Sharia, or Islamic law. It has since morphed into a jihadist organization, carrying out frequent attacks in Somalia, Kenya and Uganda. In 2012, the militant organization officially aligned with al-Qaida. Twitter: @AlexHortonTX

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