Strike kills two militants as US-backed forces push into ISIS territory in Somalia
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 23, 2019
STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. military said it killed two Islamic State fighters Wednesday in Somalia, where there has been an uptick in airstrikes against the militant group in the past month.
In recent years, nearly all of U.S. Africa Command airstrikes in Somalia have been directed against al-Shabab, a homegrown terrorist group linked to al-Qaida that has waged a decadelong battle against country’s weak central government.
But ISIS-Somalia, which has been a small but persistent presence over the past three years, is becoming a more frequent target. AFRICOM has launched five airstrikes in the past month against the group, which some analysts estimate has a force strength of about 200.
AFRICOM is targeting ISIS elements in Somalia “to limit and disrupt freedom of movement in the area and to eliminate leaders of the organization,” the command said.
“Our efforts to locate and eradicate ISIS leaders who control a range of activities — from operations to financing and communications — is hitting at the heart of the organization and disrupting their ability to continue their terrorist activities,” said Rear Adm. Heidi K. Berg, AFRICOM’s director of intelligence, in a statement Thursday.
The most recent airstrike occurred in Somalia’s Golis mountains, AFRICOM said.
Last month, AFRICOM said it also killed ISIS-Somalia’s second-in-command, Abdulhakim Dhuqub, in a strike.
Somalia’s military, with the help of “partner forces,” is pushing into territory where ISIS operates, AFRICOM said.
The U.S. military presence in Somalia also has grown as U.S. forces assist local troops in the battle against Al-Shabab, a group with an estimated 5,000 fighters that has been the main target of U.S. strikes.
The number of AFRICOM airstrikes in the country has steadily increased, going from 35 in 2017 to 47 in 2018. So far in 2019, it has conducted more than 30 airstrikes there.
Last month, the command acknowledged that it killed two civilians during a 2018 strike in Somalia, which marked the first public acknowledgement that noncombatants had been killed in the military’s expanded bombing campaign in the country.
Weeks earlier, the human rights group Amnesty International had said it found credible evidence that at least four of five civilian casualty incidents it investigated in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle were the result of U.S. airstrikes in recent years, with up to 14 civilians killed and eight wounded.
The command assesses that no civilians were killed in Wednesday’s strike.