Unidentified aircraft attacked an insurgent base near the southern Somali port of Kismayu late wounding a number of fighters, al Shabaab officials and residents said.
Al Shabaab insurgents with links to al Qaeda control much of southern and central Somalia along with parts of the capital Mogadishu. They have been fighting the U.N.-backed government and African Union troops for several years.
The presence of the largely Western-funded African troops has helped the insurgents champion a nationalist cause and recruit several hundred foreign fighters, some with a direct link to al Qaeda, analysts say, Reuters reports.
Kismayu residents said the aircraft — some said helicopters, others said planes — attacked a place called Qandal about 10 km (6 miles) south of the port, where foreign jihadists within al Shabaab’s ranks stay.
The United States has authorised covert operations in the Horn of Africa nation in the past. U.S. special forces killed one of east Africa’s top al Qaeda militants, Kenyan-born Saleh Ali Nabhan, in southern Somalia in September 2009.
U.S. officials have said they have a list of suspects they believe are in Somalia and constantly monitor the country with a view to striking if any are spotted.
Sheikh Hassan Yacqub, the spokesman for al Shabaab in Kismayu, told an insurgent-run radio station two unidentified helicopters had attacked the group’s troops while on patrol and that some fighters were wounded in an exchange of fire.
“We heard heavy bombing and gunfire including the sound of anti-aircraft weapons but we don’t know the specific area nor the casualties caused,” a resident who gave his name as Ibrahim told Reuters from Kismayu.
“I was told that many al Shabaab injured were brought to the hospital but I didn’t see it with my own eyes,” he said.
Another resident who lives about 5 km from Qandal said there were huge blasts. An Islamist commander said that several insurgents had been wounded in the attack, which he blamed on the United States and France.
In May 2008, a U.S. airstrike in central Somalia killed al Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Ayro, who was believed to be al Qaeda’s top man in the lawless country.
Somali police killed east Africa’s most wanted al Qaeda operative, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, earlier this month at a checkpoint in the capital Mogadishu.
Mohammed was reputed to run al Qaeda in east Africa, operating in Somalia and evading capture for over a decade after being accused of playing a lead role in the 1998 U.S. embassy attacks that killed 240 people in Kenya and Tanzania.