MOGADISHU - US forces have carried out air strikes against the leader of Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab rebels, with casualties reported but uncertainty hanging over the fate of the main target, officials said Tuesday.
The Pentagon confirmed an ‘operation’ was carried out on Monday against the hardline militia, and that it was ‘assessing the results’. ‘The Americans carried out a major air strike targeting a gathering by senior Al-Shebab officials, including their leader Abu-Zubayr,’ said Abdukadir Mohamed Nur, governor for southern Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region.
Abu-Zubayr is the often-used name for Shebab supreme commander Ahmed Abdi Godane, listed by the US State Department as one of the world’s eight top terror fugitives. If confirmed, Godane’s death would be a major blow for the Shebab.
Washington has carried out a series of drone missile strikes in the past, including attacks reportedly targeting Godane.
‘We are assessing the results of the operation,’ Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement. The Shebab refused to comment on reports Godane had been killed. ‘Let the Americans say that they have killed Shebab’s leader,’ a senior Shebab official told AFP on condition of anonymity. ‘So far the Americans just gave us rumours.’ The air strike comes days after African Union (AU) troops and government forces launched ‘Operation Indian Ocean’, a major offensive aimed at seizing key ports from the Islamist rebels and cutting off one of their key sources of revenue — multi-million dollar exports of charcoal.
‘They were meeting to discuss about the current offensive in the region,’ Nur said. ‘There were casualties inflicted on the militants, but we don’t have details so far.’ Nur said the strike hit a Shebab hideout used as a training camp for suicide bombers a in remote village of the Lower Shabelle region, south of the capital Mogadishu — the seat of Somalia’s internationally-backed but fragile government.
Somali Foreign Minister Abdirahman Dualeh Beileh, speaking at an African Union summit meeting on terrorism in Nairobi, said the government was ‘still waiting for information’ on the strike. On Saturday the AU mission in Somalia, AMISOM, said it had captured the town of Bulomarer, some 160 kilometres (100 miles) southwest of Mogadishu.
The town was the scene of an attempted raid by French commandos in January 2013 to free an intelligence agent being held hostage. The bid failed and resulted in the death of two members of the French special forces as well as the hostage.