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In aftermath of Nairobi attack, U.S. airstrikes target Al Shabaab

By Sheetal Sukhija, China News
23 Jan 2019, 03:40 GMT+10

MOGADISHU, Somalia - An extremist attack at a luxury hotel complex in Kenya's Nairobi last week was claimed by the Al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group, Al Shabaab.

In retribution for the Nairobi attack which left 21 people dead, the U.S. Africa command said that it had carried out an airstrike targeting the extremist group.

Al Shabaab militants armed with guns and explosives launched an attack on the DusitD2 Hotel in the Kenyan capital, opening fire at people at random and killing 21 people, including foreigners.

The U.S. Africa command said in a statement that a U.S. airstrike in Somalia had killed 52 Islamic militants from Al Shabaab.

The statement added that no civilians had been injured or killed in the airstrike launched in response to an attack by a "large group" of militants against local Somali forces in a fiercely contested zone south of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

The U.S. Africa Command, which oversees U.S. military operations on the continent, said that the airstrike was conducted near the Jilib, Middle Juba Region of Somalia.

It added that the airstrike was conducted "in response to an attack by a large group of Al Shabaab militants against Somali National Army Forces on January 19."

The U.S. military said that they "currently assess this airstrike killed fifty-two (52) militants."

The airstrike was confirmed by Ethiopia's state television, which cited the country's defense ministry as saying that 60 Al Shabaab militants were killed and four vehicles filled with explosives had been destroyed in the strike.

Ethiopia is one of the countries that contributes troops to the multinational African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

It also has troops there that are independently stationed there under Ethiopian army command.

In a statement issued post the airstrike, the U.S. administration said that it is committed to "preventing Al Shabaab from taking advantage of safe havens from which they can build capacity and attack the people of Somalia."

The reign of Al Shabaab

Al Shabaab began an insurgency in Somalia a decade ago and regularly orchestrates acts of terrorism throughout the country and particularly in Mogadishu.

In 2011, Somali troops backed by African Union soldiers, managed to defeat and evict the group out of Mogadishu.

However, since then, the group has grown in size and strength and has launched several attacks targeting high profile locations in the Somali capital and across East Africa, killing hundreds of civilians and troops.

In 2016, Al Shabaab was ranked as the deadliest Islamist extremist group in Africa and the group has since stepped up its terror campaign in Somalia.

The group is on a mission to topple the Western-backed central government that is defended by the African Union-mandated peacekeeping force (AMISOM) and establish its own rule based on its strict interpretation of Islam's sharia law.

Over the last two years, the group has stepped up attacks against the African Union Mission in Somalia, bombing bases across the country's central and southern regions.

Last year, the group launched one of the deadliest attacks in decades, killing 587 people and leaves scores injured.

Following the deadly October 2017 double truck bombing, the U.S. vowed to step up airstrikes against the militants.

Over the last 12 months, the U.S. President Donald Trump has loosened the U.S. Military's rules of engagement, which have allowed the country's forces to launch preemptive strikes on militants.

In December last year, the United States Africa Command said that it had carried out an operation against the militant group, in close coordination with Somalia's government, which resulted in wiping out 62 Al Shabaab fighters.

After the attacks, the U.S. Africa Command said that it had broken its previous annual record of the number of airstrikes conducted in Somalia targeting Al Shabaab.

In 2017, the U.S. Military launched 31 airstrikes against Al Shabaab in the country, killing 100 of the group's fighters through the year.

In 2018, the U.S. conducted 47 precision airstrikes against Al Shabaab militants.

The 500 U.S. troops, including a large number of Special Operations forces deployed at several bases across Somalia, are involved in ground operations against the militant group.

The Green Berets, Marine Raiders, Navy SEALs and other U.S. troops have also been tasked with training Somali forces to battle the growing extremist threat in the country.

According to military officials, the latest airstrike is the 6th U.S. airstrike in Somalia targeting Al Shabaab in 2019.

It was the deadliest U.S. military airstrike conducted in Somalia in months.

According to estimates released by the U.S. Department of Defense, there are 3,000 to 7,000 Al Shabaab fighters and 70 to 250 ISIS fighters in Somalia, as of August 2018.

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