On April 14th, a US drone strike killed Abdulhakim Dhuqub, the No. 2 ISIS-Somalia official, according to a statement by US Africa Command.
Dhuqub was responsible for the daily operations of the extremist group, attack planning, and resource procurement.
AFRICOM said that the strike is a part of the on-going coordination between the US and the federal government of Somalia to combat ISIS and al-Shabaab.
“U.S. Africa Command precision airstrikes support Somali security force activities and build enhanced security conditions to allow time and space for governance and economic development to occur.”
“We continue to work with our Somali partners to keep pressure on the al-Shabaab and ISIS Somalia terror networks,” said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, U.S. Africa Command director of operations. “When it supports the strategy, we use precision airstrikes to target those who plan and carry out the violent extremist activities that put Somalis at risk.”
The airstrike reportedly only killed Dhuqub and destroyed one vehicle.
The airstrikes help to create “organizational confusion within the terrorist networks in Somalia,” according to Air Force Col. Chris Karns, an AFRICOM spokesman.
“By consistently placing pressure on the terror networks, it keeps them off balance and reflects the federal government of Somalia’s commitment to enhancing stability and security for the Somali people,” he told Air Force Times. “Various levels of leadership within the terror networks are effectively being targeted and removed from doing further harm to innocent Somalis.”
This is a part of an on-going ramping up of US air strikes in Somalia, since the first quarter of 2019 saw more attacks than most of the previous years had year-round.
Since the beginning of March 2019, the US AFRICOM carried out the following airstrikes on al-Shabaab or ISIS targets, to allegedly assist the Somalian Armed Forces.
- March 1st: announcement of a strike on February 28th, the airstrike killed 26 al-Shabaab militants, and there were no estimations of civilian injuries or deaths.
“This action is demonstrative of the Federal Government of Somalia’s commitment to dismantling al-Shabaab’s network with U.S. assistance,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Gregory Hadfield, U.S. Africa Command deputy director of intelligence. “Precision airstrikes such as this one maintain pressure on al-Shabaab and disrupt its planning cycle and degrade its ability to mass forces and coordinate attacks against the Somali people.”
- March 12th: the airstrike took place on March 11th and killed 8 al-Shabaab militants, no civilian casualties were reported.
“The airstrike was conducted in support of Somali-led ground forces that came under attack from militants. U.S. service members were present during the ground operation in an advisory capacity. All U.S. service members are accounted for and are unharmed.
This mission and airstrike are part of a larger effort to support the Somalia National Army (SNA) as it increases pressure on the terrorist network.”
- March 13th: the airstrike took place on March 12th and killed 2 al-Shabaab militants, no civilian casualties were reported.
“Precision airstrikes like this remove al-Shabaab militants from the battlefield and support our partner’s efforts to increase pressure on the terrorist network,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. William West, U.S. Africa Command deputy director of operations. “The Federal Government of Somalia continues to eliminate al-Shabaab leadership, disrupt its communication efforts, and obstruct the group’s ability to terrorize the people of Somalia.”
- March 14th: the airstrike took place on March 13th, and killed 3 al-Shabaab militants, no civilian casualties were reported.
“Somali National Security Forces (SNSF) were conducting a presence patrol in the region in order to maintain pressure on the al-Shabaab network. During the mission, militants engaged the SNSF patrol with small arms fire.”
- March 19th: the airstrike took place on March 18th, and killed 3 al-Shabaab militants, there were reports of civilian casualties, but they were inconclusive and would be investigated by AFRICOM.
“This airstrike is one element of a larger strategy to support the Somali National Army (SNA) as it increases pressure on the terrorist network and its recruiting efforts in the region.”
- April 10th: the airstrike took place on April 9th, and killed 1 militant, no civilian casualties were reported.
“Continued pressure on the al-Shabaab network is critical to progress,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, U.S. Africa Command director of operations. “Our assistance complements the Federal Government of Somalia’s efforts to create stability and a better future for the Somali people.”
- April 12th: the airstrike took place on April 11th, and killed 2 militants and destroyed 1 motorcycle, no civilian casualties were reported.
“We continue to target and strike various levels of leadership within the al-Shabaab network,” said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, U.S. Africa Command director of operations. “These precision strikes help sow discord within the ranks of al-Shabaab.”
- Finally, is the April 15th announcement of the airstrike that killed Abdulhakim Dhuqub.
In regard to civilian casualties, AFRICOM responded to a report by Amnesty International on March 19th.
The response alleged that Amnesty’s method of acquiring information was not trustworthy, since “it is in the interest of the terrorist group al-Shabaab to untruthfully claim civilian casualties. It is also in the interest of al-Shabaab to coerce community members to make untrue claims. Al-Shabaab and ISIS-Somalia have a history of placing their forces and facilities in and around civilian locations to conceal and shield their activities. Therefore, AFRICOM rigorously assess potential targets to ensure only legitimate al-Shabaab and IS militants are targeted.”
AFRICOM also said it takes all reports of civilian casualties “seriously regardless of their origin.”
“During research for its report, Amnesty International submitted 13 allegations in October 2018 and February 2019. Our assessments found that no AFRICOM airstrike resulted in any civilian casualty or injury. Our assessments are based on post-strike analysis using intelligence methods not available to non-military organizations.”
On April 1st, 2019, the commander-directed review of airstrikes conducted in Somalia since 2017, U.S. Africa Command learned an April 1, 2018 airstrike killed two civilians. And that was it.
“Credibility, transparency, and accountability are fundamental to military operations,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, commander, U.S. Africa Command. “It is critically important that people understand we adhere to exacting standards and when we fall short, we acknowledge shortcomings and take appropriate action.”
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