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WASHINGTON — An U.S. airstrike Thursday morning killed a handful of al-Qaida-linked mili-tants in Somalia who had opened fire on American-back Uganadan troops, a Pentagon spokes-man said.

The Ugandan soldiers were attacked by about 15 to 20 al-Shabab militants while conducting a raid on an illegal taxation checkpoint set up by the terrorist organization on a remote road west of Mogadishu, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. Nearby American troops called in the “defensive” airstrike that killed five militants and ended the threat to the Ugandans.

The Ugandan soldiers were members of AMISOM, or African Mission in Somalia, a team of more than 20,000 troops from about 12 countries charged with expelling al-Shabab from the country.

“They came under fire from the al-Shabab militants and we called in an airstrike in their de-fense,” Davis told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon. “This is something we’re doing. We con-tinue to work closely with partner forces to target al-Shabab in Somalia.”

About 50 American troops are serving in Somalia to advise and assist AMISOM troops, Davis said. A small group of those American soldiers – Davis did provide specifics – were nearby when the Uganadan troops were attacked, but they were never engaged during the fight, he said.

The raid was ultimately successful, eliminating the illegal taxation point.

In recent months, such checkpoints have sprung up regularly in remote areas of Somalia, Davis said. Al-Shabab, which has been largely driven from the country’s major cities, including Moga-dishu, has used checkpoints to fund their illicit activities. The group continues to plot against American and other western interests in Somalia and other East African countries, Davis said.

Al-Shabab, which translates to “the youth,” was formed in the early 2000s with the intent to over-throw 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.

The U.S. military has conducted sporadic drone strikes against al-Shabab in recent years. The American strikes, such as Thursday’s, are often used to protect AMISOM forces and American military advisers, though some of them have targeted al-Shabab leaders and training camps. Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.
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