U.S. special operations forces and Somali commandos captured an undisclosed number of high-value Al-Shabaab figures during a joint nighttime raid on one of the terror group’s camps, a Somali government spokesman said Wednesday.
The teams also killed at least one senior Al-Shabaab leader and several members of the Islamist extremist organization in the Tuesday night operation, according to Abdisalam Aato, the Somali spokesman. The Somali commandos were part of a special unit known as Danab, which means lightning in Somali.
“The government of Somalia welcomes working with the United States and other forces to defeat terror group Al-Shabaab,” Aato said.
This is the same raid described by Mohamed Aways, an official in the southern Somali town of Awdhiigle. Aways said the brunt of the attack — involving three warplanes and “infantry” — in his region lasted about 30 minutes, the state-run Somali National News Agency reported.
Awdhiigle is located about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.
Al-Shabaab acknowledged the Awdhiigle clash on its Twitter account, though it related a far different outcome: claiming its fighters “thwarted … a landing operation by foreign forces.”
The militant group’s military operations spokesman, Sheikh Abdiaziz Abu Musab, claimed the “foreign forces” (he didn’t know their home country) came to the Al-Shabaab camp on two helicopters.
“Heavy clashes lasted for nearly a half-hour,” Abu Musab said on the pro-Al-Shabaab radio station, according to the tweet. “… The mujahideen forced the foreign forces to retreat after making them suffer losses.”
The spokesman didn’t indicate that anyone from Al-Shabaab had been captured. As to casualties, he said there were only two — one militant killed, another injured.
U.S. military has history in Somalia
Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked militant organization, calls Somalia home. Its stated aim is to turn the East African nation into a fundamentalist Islamic state, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
But the Islamist extremist group hasn’t confined its terror or ambitions to Somalia, as evidenced by other horrific attacks like last year’s massacre at Kenya’s Garissa University College and a 2013 siege of Nairobi’s upscale Westgate Mall.
These tactics have made Al-Shabaab a target, with the United States, African Union and others often helping Somalia’s government in going after the terrorist group.
The U.S. military, in particular, has proven its willingness to put itself on the line in Somalia.
This history includes an October 1993 incident in which rocket-propelled grenades downed two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters taking part in a raid targeting the forces of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. That set off a firefight that ended with 18 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Somalis dead.
Then-President Bill Clinton pulled U.S. forces out of Somalia, with the incident souring some people’s feelings about U.S. military’s intervention in certain foreign entanglements.
But Al-Shabaab’s rise in recent years has changed the equation, with the American military often working hand-in-hand with the Somali government — as happened, apparently, in Tuesday night’s raid.
The U.S. has a limited military presence at the airport in Mogadishu, and numbers of U.S. Special Operations forces have traveled to other locations in the country.
2 Al-Shabaab leaders reportedly killed in weekend attack
One of the biggest examples of America’s involvement in Somalia came in 2014, when the Pentagon announced that Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane had been killed in a U.S. military operation.
More recently, the Pentagon says, American forces — including both manned and unmanned aircraft — were involved in an operation Saturday that killed as many as 150 Al-Shabaab fighters.
That attack was on an Al-Shabaab training site called “Raso Camp” located some 120 miles north of Mogadishu.
A U.S. strike killed 150 Al-Shabaab fighters at a training site called the “Raso Camp,” the Pentagon says.
The dead include a pair of high-level Al-Shabaab leaders, a senior Somali intelligence source told CNN. One was Yusuf Ali Ugas, a regional commander, recruiter and influential preacher. The other was Mohamed Mire, Al-Shabaab’s governor for Somalia’s Hiran region and a key member of the group’s finance wing.
Peter Cook, a Pentagon spokesman, said that attack Saturday was carried out to safeguard “our African Union Mission” in Somalia and that “the fighters who were scheduled to depart the camp posed an imminent threat” to the mission.
U.S. strikes terror camp in Somalia 01:59
He added, “The removal of these fighters degrades Al-Shabaab’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Somalia, including recruiting new members, establishing bases, and planning attacks” on U.S. and African Union forces.
However, Al-Shabaab — as they did regarding the Tuesday night raid — refuted the Pentagon report in in a short statement posted on the group’s Twitter account.
“Harakat Al Shabaab Al Mujahideen denies the claims of killing 150 fighters in recent airstrike, as was reported by the Pentagon,” the group said.
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CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali contributed to this report.