NAIROBI — The U.S. military announced Monday that it carried out six airstrikes over the weekend against the extremist group al-Shabab in a coastal region south of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, killing 62 fighters.
It said there were no collateral civilian casualties.
The strikes bring the total in 2018 to 46, higher than last year’s 31, which was a record. The Trump administration has loosened the U.S. military’s rules of engagement, allowing it to seek out militants and preemptively strike them, leading to more frequent air raids. More than 300 al-Shabab fighters have been killed in this year’s strikes.
All six airstrikes were “conducted to prevent al-Shabab from using remote areas as a safe haven to plot, direct, inspire, and recruit for future attacks,” the military’s statement said.
A strike in October killed 60 fighters, and another in November 2017 killed about 100.
Al-Shabab controls rural areas across southern Somalia, where it has instituted a strict interpretation of sharia law. The group grew out of resentment toward international intervention in Somali politics, and many of its original members were trained by al-Qaeda. Its current leaders pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda and have battled not just the Somali government and its regional and American backers, but also a Somali offshoot of the Islamic State against which it competes.
Al-Shabab has carried out numerous suicide bombings, often in the heart of Mogadishu. A particularly devastating one in October 2017 killed more than 500 people.
The U.S. military has stationed about 500 troops in Somalia, most of whom are Special Operations forces, including Green Berets, Marine Raiders and Navy SEALs who operate a speckling of bases nationwide. Their main mandate is to train Somali forces, but increasingly they have been engaged in ground operations.
In June, Army Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Conrad, 26, of Chandler, Ariz., was killed during a raid on suspected al-Shabab members. He was the second U.S. soldier to die in Somalia since President Trump took office.
The United States recently reestablished a permanent diplomatic mission in Mogadishu, almost three decades after it closed its embassy amid Somalia’s civil war. The Somali government has struggled to maintain control over the country’s major cities and has all but ceded rural areas to al-Shabab.
A coalition of 20,000-odd troops cobbled together from East African countries, including Burundi, Kenya and Uganda, is essential to the Somali government’s control over roads and cities. The African Union force was expected to end its Somalia mission by 2020, but talks have been indefinitely postponed.