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US airstrikes kill 10 Somali militants after troops thwart Al-Shabab attack on airfield

A member of the Italian military stands next to a damaged armored personnel carrier after an attack on a European Union military convoy in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia Monday, Sept. 30, 2019.

FARAH ABDI WARSAMEH/AP

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2019

STUTTGART, Germany — U.S. forces launched two airstrikes and fought with small arms against militants in Somalia after a base used by American troops in the Horn of Africa country came under attack Monday, U.S. Africa Command said.

Ten militants were killed in the U.S. response to the attack on the Baledogle Military Airfield complex Monday morning, AFRICOM said. The Al-Shabab militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

No U.S. or partner troops were wounded during the attack on the base, and no civilians were injured or killed in the U.S. airstrikes, AFRICOM said.

“This attack, though ineffective, demonstrates the direct threat al-Shabab poses to Americans, our allies, and interests in the region,” Maj. Gen. William Gayler, AFRICOM director of operations, said in a statement. “Incidents like this will not compromise the pressure being placed on this terrorist network by the Federal Government of Somalia and international partners.”

The attack on Baledogle began when a suicide car bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives at the gate of the facility, which includes a military airstrip, Somali security official Yusuf Abdourahman told The Associated Press. Bursts of gunfire could be heard on the base afterward, he said.

Al-Shabab said in a statement that its fighters had breached the perimeters of “the heavily fortified base” before “engaging in an intense firefight” with troops inside.

But the U.S. Embassy in Somalia said a quick response by security forces at the base had repelled the attackers.

“The security forces stopped this ultimately failed attack due to their alertness and swift response, not allowing the attackers to breach the outer defensive perimeters of the base,” the embassy said. “We are thankful that there were no SNA (Somali National Army) casualities between the multiple attacks.”

In a separate attack Monday, a suicide car bomber targeted Italian peacekeepers in Mogadishu, the AP reported. That attack missed the European Union peacekeepers but injured Somali civilians who were nearby, the AP said, citing reports.

The attacks show that “al-Shabab violently opposes progress towards peace and prosperity in Somalia,” the U.S. embassy statement said.

“The United States affirms our strong commitment to the people and government of Somalia and to assist collective efforts to degrade terror groups and build a stronger and prosperous Somalia that offers a brighter future for its people.”

The U.S. military has been making improvements to Baledogle, including expanding the airfield to be able to handle broader operations. The U.S. routinely conducts airstrikes against al-Shabab fighters in Somalia, launching about 50 so far this year.

Camp Baledogle also serves as a headquarters for Somalia’s U.S.-trained Danab (Lightning) Advanced Infantry Brigade.

Danab commando units were stood up several years ago. Originally conceived as a small battalion-sized element, the unit has recently been expanded, with current plans envisioning a 3,000-troop brigade spread out across six Somalia army sectors.

For years, after 18 U.S. servicemembers were killed when their Black Hawk helicopter was shot down during the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, there was no American military presence in Somalia.

But during the past several years, the U.S. military has gradually built back up in Somalia, and in 2018, the U.S. reopened its diplomatic mission in Somali after a 28-year closure. The moves are part of a push to help stabilize Somalia and its chronically weak government and military.

The number of U.S. troops in Somalia fluctuates but generally ranges between 650 and 800 at any given time, according to AFRICOM.

Expanding the American military mission has come with risks. U.S. special operations troops serve as advisers to the Somali military and have accompanied local forces on dangerous missions.

In 2017, a Navy SEAL was killed in combat in the country, marking the first such death since the Black Hawk Down incident.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

A Somali woman watch the destruction after car bomb attack on a European Union military convoy in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. A Somali police officer says a suicide car bomber has targeted a European Union military convoy carrying Italian military trainers in the Somali capital Monday.
FARAH ABDI WARSAMEH/AP

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