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US steps up airstrike in Somalia after troops come under attack

The American military has escalated a battle against the Shabab, an extremist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, in Somalia. (FILE PHOTO)

MOGADISHU – The US military conducted an airstrike in Somalia on Monday, March 11 after a Somali-led force and its accompanying US military advisers were attacked by Al-Shabaab militants.

The strike killed eight Al-Shabaab fighters, US Africa Command, which oversees US military operations on the continent, said Tuesday.

“US service members were present during the ground operation in an advisory capacity. All US service members are accounted for and are unharmed,” the statement added.

The US has approximately 500 troops in Somalia, primarily in advisory roles.

At least 244 fighters from the al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab have been killed in 25 airstrikes so far in 2019, according to figures released by US Africa Command.

The US military estimates that Al-Shabaab commands over 4,000 fighters.

There has been a significant increase in US airstrikes in Somalia since President Donald Trump authorized the military to carry out precision strikes targeting Al-Shabaab in March 2017 in an effort to bolster the Somali government. Prior to that the US military was authorized to conduct airstrikes only in defense of advisers on the ground.

In all of 2018, the US conducted 47 airstrikes targeting Al-Shabaab, killing about 338 militants. In 2017, the US conducted 35 airstrikes, and in 2016 it conducted 15.

A US defense official in Africa said that the recent increase in the pace of strikes is due to successes that local Somali security forces have been having in their counterinsurgency strategy against Al-Shabaab. The Somali forces are compelling Al-Shabaab to fight or retreat, exposing the insurgents to US airstrikes, the official said.

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