WASHINGTON — U.S. officials confirmed Friday that an American military strike earlier this week killed the head of al-Shabab, an Islamic militant group based in Somalia which has targeted Westerners.

“The U.S. military undertook operations against [Ahmed] Godane on Sept. 1, which led to his death,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.

“Godane’s removal is a major symbolic and operational loss to the largest al-Qaida affiliate in Africa and reflects years of painstaking work by our intelligence, military and law enforcement professionals,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon revealed that U.S. special operations forces, using manned and unmanned aircraft, destroyed an encampment and a vehicle in south central Somalia with several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions.

“We certainly believe that we hit what we were aiming at,” Kirby said at a press conference Tuesday, but at the time could not confirm that Godane or other al-Shabab leaders were killed.

On Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said the U.S. was using “intelligence means” to try determine if the militant chief had been taken out. On Friday, the Defense Department broke the news that he had not survived.

Al-Shabab has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. In 2012, Godane proclaimed his allegiance to al-Qaida. The Somali network has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks inside the country and elsewhere, including the deadly Westgate Mall rampage in Nairobi, Kenya, last year, and suicide bombings in Uganda and Djibouti.

Godane continued to manage plots targeting Westerners in East Africa, including Americans, according to the White House. A 2010 al-Shabab suicide bombing in Kampala killed a U.S. citizen.

The U.S. will keep on targeting the militant group because it still remains a threat even after Godane’s removal, officials said.

“Even as this is an important step forward in the fight against al-Shabab, the United States will continue to use the tools at our disposal — financial, diplomatic, intelligence and military — to address the threat that al-Shabab and other terrorist groups pose to the United States and the American people,” Earnest said. Twitter: @JHarperStripes

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