US forces conduct precision airstrike against ISIS-Somalia, 3 militants killed

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On 31 May, US Africa Command (Africom) carried out an airstrike targeting Islamic State in Somalia (ISIS-Somalia), in the area of Dhaardaar, about 81 km southeast of Bosaso, Somalia, resulting in three fatalities.

Africom said Friday “An initial assessment of the strike is that three ISIS militants were killed, with no civilian casualties.” This operation reflects the ongoing efforts of US forces to combat terrorist activities and promote stability in the region.

This kinetic action is part of a broader strategy to weaken ISIS’s operational capabilities in Somalia, regionally, and globally. Africom emphasized the threat posed by ISIS, stating that the group “has conducted numerous attacks globally, including terrorist attacks in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, all while continuing to plot against US homeland and personnel and interests around the world, as well as regional partners, and others globally,” adding tha,t “Protecting innocent civilians remains a vital part of the command’s operations to promote a more secure and stable Africa.”

A day after the airstrike, the US Department of State confirmed that Secretary Blinken has already spoken with Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. They talked about “shared security interests in the Horn of Africa, including the need to reduce regional tensions, focus on counterterrorism objectives, and finalize planning for a successor mission to the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS). They also discussed the important role of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia,” said the official statement released on Saturday.

In 2015, ISIS-Somalia separated from al-Qaeda’s affiliate, al-Shabaab, and in 2018, pledged allegiance to ISIS. Somalia is a critical focal point in the security landscape of East Africa. US forces, alongside Somali partners, say they are dedicated to training, advising, and equipping local forces to degrade ISIS’s influence and operational capacity. This airstrike is a continuation of those collaborative efforts.

Moreover, the financial underpinning of ISIS in Somalia has been substantial. According to the US Department of the Treasury, ISIS-Somalia has generated millions of dollars through extortion and money laundering. The Treasury Department noted in February that, “Since 2022, the ISIS branch in Somalia probably has been ISIS’s primary revenue generator, earning approximately $6 million mostly from extortion and local taxes. This amount of ISIS expenditures in Somalia could be covered entirely through revenue acquired from extortion of local businesses.”

This significant financial flow underscores the necessity of disrupting ISIS operations to hinder their ability to finance terrorism locally and globally. US Africa Command reiterated the importance of such measures, saying, “US Africa Command, alongside its partners, continues to take action to prevent this terrorist group from planning and conducting attacks, which disproportionately harms civilians.”

In 2022, the US re-established a persistent deployed presence in Somalia, providing comprehensive support. “We are providing training, logistical support, medical evacuation, and intelligence to vetted units in the Somali National Army (SNA)—the 6 Danab commandos—and collaborating with the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS),” US Marine Corps General Michael Langley—the Commander of US Africa Command—told US policymakers earlier this year. Last year, Africom conducted 18 airstrikes requested by SNA commanders and eliminated Bilal al-Sudani, a key ISIS leader in Somalia, with no civilian casualties reported, he explained in his testimony.

Langley highlighted to Congress his combatant command’s primary mission, stating, “US Africom’s main effort in the Horn of Africa is supporting the Somali government’s fight against al-Qaeda’s largest franchise – al-Shabaab – as well as ISIS-Somalia.”

Separately, about two months ago, Congress gave bipartisan funding approval—Democrats and Republicans— of $95 billion, predominantly for Ukraine, Israel, but included in the HR 815, the National Security Supplemental bill, is money for Somalia’s humanitarian needs. The bill will “enhance and expand humanitarian aid for those who have been impacted by instability, by conflict, by disaster all over the world, including in Haiti, in Sudan, and Somalia,” Jake Sullivan told White House press corps the day President Biden signed it.

While this year, the collective self-defence airstrike carried out in late January 2024 has been the deadliest, killing 20 al-Shabaab militants, in the last four US administrations, about 320 airstrikes have been conducted against terrorism-related armed actors.

ISIS-Somalia separated from al-Qaeda and the State Department US State Department designated ISIS-Somalia as a foreign terrorist organization in February 2018.

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on US foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe