The U.S. military launched an airstrike in Somalia against al-Shabaab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, also known as Ahmed Abdi Godane, according to a Pentagon press briefing held Tuesday. The operation marks the most visible intervention in the East African country in nearly a year as the American government builds up its UAV capabilities elsewhere on the continent.
A drone sits at a French army base in Niamey, Niger. (Photo: AFP)
U.S. military spokesman Rear Adm. John F. Kirby confirmed that an American drone, along with other manned aircraft, destroyed a suspected terrorist compound and a nearby vehicle on Monday. It remains unclear if Godane survived the attack. The al-Qaeda-linked group told the AP that six fighters had been killed in Barawe, about 150 miles south of Mogadishu. Kirby said that the Pentagon is still assessing the results of the operation, but Godane’s death would pose a “significant blow” to the organization.
Originally designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government in 2008, Godane took responsibility for al-Shabaab’s assault on the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The attack, one year ago this month, claimed the lives of 67 people including three assailants. Subsequent U.S. missions against the group have employed about 100 Special Operations troops in both combat roles and the training of local security forces. Last October, Navy Seals raided the home of another al-Shabaab leader in southern Somalia, but commandos withdrew without reaching their target after a fierce gunbattle.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, the Department of Defense announced it would open an additional drone base in Niger, the second of its type in the landlocked nation. Neighboring Chad is already home to another U.S. Air Force contingent working at a French military compound. Both allies have increased their presence in West Africa as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram launch terrorist attacks in Mali and Nigeria respectfully.