U.S. Special Operations Forces conducted a joint U.S.-Somali helicopter raid against the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia on Tuesday, according to U.S. defense officials.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said that the U.S. role in the raid was strictly in an advisory capacity and that U.S. forces did not accompany the Somali troops to the objective. Davis would not say what that objective was, though he did specify that the aircraft used in the raid were American.
In 2013, U.S. Navy SEALs attempted to capture an al-Shabab leader during an amphibious raid on the coastal town of Barawe. The assault quickly went wrong when the American commando force was discovered after coming ashore. In the ensuing gun battle, the SEALs left behind some equipment but were pulled out safely.
The latest U.S. raid comes just days after a series of airstrikes hit an al-Shabab training camp approximately 120 miles north of Mogadishu. The strikes, carried out in waves by both drones and fixed-wing aircraft, killed more than 150 al-Shabab fighters — an unprecedented number of casualties for the U.S.-led air campaign against the group.
U.S. officials said the training camp was targeted because the fighters posed an “imminent threat” to U.S. and African Union forces in the region. The United States has a small contingent of advisers in the war-torn country in a bid to help train, advise and assist their African Union counterparts.
The small detachment of approximately 50 U.S. advisers was sent to Somalia in 2013. Their arrival marked the first U.S. troop deployment to the country since 1993, when U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force members left the country following the failure of Operation Gothic Serpent, known to many as the “Black Hawk Down” incident.
In the past month, al-Shabab carried out a failed suicide attack on an Emirati airliner and claimed responsibility for ambushing and killing more than 100 Kenyan troops stationed in Somalia.
The terror group has waxed and waned as a regional threat in recent years, as a series of U.S. strikes in 2014 targeted al-Shabab’s leadership following the deadly Kenyan Westgate mall siege in 2013. The siege on the popular upscale mall in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi killed 67 people and wounded more than 100.
Al-Shabab has also experienced varying degrees of infighting after the Islamic State pushed the group to break ties with al-Qaeda and pledge allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Despite some defections, al-Shabab remains tightly aligned with the terrorist group responsible for carrying out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Missy Ryan contributed to this report.