US airstrikes kill terrorist leader in Somalia

US airstrikes kill terrorist leader in Somalia

Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, U.S. Africa Command commander testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding the 2020 Defense Authorization Request and Future Years Defense Program, Feb. 7, 2019 (DoD photo)

WASHINGTON — U.S. airstrikes in Somalia have killed a top leader of an al-Qaeda-affiliate in that country in the first action since President Donald Trump authorized that war for at least another year.

Pentagon officials confirmed Tuesday that Abdulhakim Dhuqub was killed in the vicinity of Xiriiro, in the Bari region, of Somalia — a geographic area not usually in the sights of U.S. air strikes.

Dhuqub headed daily operations, attack planning and resource procurement for a part of  al-Shabaab, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, Pentagon officials said. He was killed Sunday, they said.

What was to be a one-year training mission by U.S. troops for Somalian local forces battling al-Qaeda has entered its third year. U.S. military personnel in the country have risen from about 50 in 2016 to more than 500 this month, the third largest deployment of U.S. troops in Africa; air strikes have increased yearly, from 11 in 2015 to 47 in 2018.

“America’s burden in Somalia looks set to grow unless a conscious decision to withdraw is made,” Defense Priorities, a Washington think tank, said in a statement. “The mission in Somalia is far from clear as U.S. troops attempt to thread the needle between propping up an incompetent government in desperate need of legitimacy, and doing so much for the Somali government that it becomes even more infantilized and totally dependent on America’s support.”

Dhuqub belong to a group called ISIS-Somalia, which Pentagon officials describe as a splinter group of al-Shabaab, which in turn is an offshoot of al-Qeada. All operate in Somalia.

Most U.S. airstrikes occur in the southern part of Somalia, Pentagon officials have said. The strike to take out Dhuqub was in the northern Somalia region of Puntland, where ISIS-Somalia was gathering in an attempt to be safer, Pentagon officials said.

Col. Chris Karns, a spokesperson for U.S. African Command, said in a statement to the media that the change up in airstrikes is designed to ensure “organizational confusion within the terrorist networks in Somalia.”

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