A file photo showing Somali Al-Shebab fighters as they gathered on Feb. 13, 2012 in Elasha Biyaha, after a demonstration to support the merger of Al-shebab and the Al-Qaeda network.
The strike targeting al-Shabab occurred at approximately 3 p.m. local time in the Bay Region, about 100 miles west of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. U.S. forces carried out the operation in coordination with Somalia’s federal government, according to a press release from the United States Africa Command.
Al Shabab, which is based in Somalia and pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in 2012, “is dedicated to providing safe haven for terrorist attacks throughout the world” and “has publicly committed to planning and conducting attacks against the U.S. and our partners in the region,” the press release stated.
“U.S. forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats,” the press release added.
The operation comes one week after U.S. forces conducted its first airstrikes against ISIS in Somalia. However, the main target of U.S. airstrikes in Somalia is al Shabab.
U.S. forces have conducted well over a dozen airstrikes targeting al Shabab this year since U.S. President Donald Trump signed a directive in March giving the military authorization to conduct offensive counterterrorism airstrikes in Somalia against the jihadist group. Previously, the U.S. military had only been able to launch airstrikes against al-Shabab fighters in self-defense situations when African Union or Somali government troops accompanied by American advisers were under attack.
Clan warlords battling for power carved up Somalia following the collapse of a military dictatorship in the early 1990s. After years of interim authority, an internationally backed federal government was installed in 2012. In February, the East African country elected its first president in decades, whose victory offered a ray of hope for residents.
But the federal government has failed to assert central authority over the entire nation which, combined with high youth unemployment, has created an opening for piracy and for armed groups such as al Shabab, whose name means “the youth.”
Al Shabab, which emerged in 2006 from the now-defunct Islamic Courts Union, launched its own insurgency against major cities in Somalia in 2009, seizing the capital and much of southern Somalia until it was pushed out by domestic and international forces around 2012.
Although the group lost control of most cities and towns, al Shabab continues to dominate in many rural areas of southern Somalia and is reportedly becoming increasingly present in the northern region. However, Somalia experts have told ABC News that the group is struggling to recruit new members.
Al Shabab has been blamed for carrying out the deadliest single attack in Somalia’s history last month, though there was no official claim of responsibility. The massive truck bombing in the capital left more than 350 people dead and hundreds of others wounded. The Oct. 14 attack could be an indication of the power the extremist group still wields over the Horn of Africa nation.