WASHINGTON: A US air strike on a Shebab training camp in Somalia over the weekend killed more than 150 fighters who were planning a large-scale attack, the Pentagon said Monday.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said the strike occurred Saturday on a camp called Raso, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) north of Mogadishu. Warplanes and unmanned drones were used in the attack.
“The fighters were there training and were training for a large-scale attack. We know they were going to be departing the camp and they posed an imminent threat to US and (African Union) forces,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.
“Initial assessments are that more than 150 terrorist fighters were eliminated,” he added, noting that as many as 200 fighters had been using the camp.
Davis said the group had neared the completion of specialist training to conduct “offensive operations,” but he did not give details about the assault the fighters were allegedly planning.
“Their removal will degrade al-Shebab’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Somalia, which includes recruiting new members, establishing bases and planning attacks on US and AMISON (African Union Mission to Somalia) forces there,” he said.
The training camp had been under surveillance for some time ahead of the strike.
“There was a sense that the operational phase was about to happen,” Davis said.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the strike was carried out in “self defense,” but he did not provide any detail on the threat the fighters may have posed.
Al-Qaeda-aligned Shebab jihadists have claimed responsibility for a string of recent attacks including a twin bombing at a busy restaurant in the Somali city of Baidoa last month.
Also Monday, six people were wounded when a laptop bomb exploded at an airport in Somalia, police said, the second such attack in recent weeks targeting passenger aircraft.
The bomb exploded at a checkpoint in the small central town of Beledweyne, some 200 miles (325 kilometers) north of the capital Mogadishu, where last month Shebab insurgents claimed responsibility for a bomb attack which ripped a hole in a passenger plane shortly after takeoff.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the latest blast, which took place at a checking area where security screening is carried out before cargo and bags are loaded onto planes.
On January 15, Shebab fighters overran a military outpost in El-Adde, southern Somalia, manned by up to 200 Kenyan soldiers deployed as part of the African Union peace-enforcement mission, AMISOM. Kenya has refused to say how many of its soldiers were killed in the attack.
Shebab fighters are targeting AMISOM because in the absence of a functioning national army, the 22,000-strong force is the only protector of the internationally backed government the jihadists are committed to overthrowing.
The US military has a small and secretive presence in Somalia.