Al-Shabaab Leader Targeted In U.S. Special Operations Air Strike In Somalia

Al-Shabaab leader Yusuf Dheeq was the target of a U.S. attack in Somalia over the weekend, and while the Pentagon initially announced that it could not confirm if he was killed, other sources said he was.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters on February 3 that U.S. special operations targeted Dheeq, a leader of the al-Shabaab terrorist group, using unmanned aerial systems.

“Now, I do want to make you aware that on Saturday, this past Saturday, the 31st of January, a little bit after 9 a.m. Eastern Time, U.S. Special Operations forces conducted a strike south of Mogadishu, using unmanned aircraft and several Hellfire missiles. This operation was a direct strike against the al-Shabaab network, and the terrorist group’s chief of external operations and planning for intelligence and security. His name was Yusuf Dheeq.”

Reporters asked Kirby if the U.S. could confirm that its special operations attack killed the al-Shabaab chief, but he said he could not.

“Well, if, again, I’m not in a position now to confirm the results of the strike. But if successful, if he no longer breathes, then this is a significant – another significant blow to al-Shabaab and their ability to conduct, plan, prepare for and – and strike against targets inside and outside Somalia. So we would deem this to be – if successful – a very significant blow against their capabilities.”

However, the Associated Press reported that other U.S. officials confirmed that Dheeq was indeed killed.

This latest attack against al-Shabaab in Somalia is the third one since al-Shabaab’s former intelligence chief, Zakariya Ismail Hersi, surrendered to Somalian authorities in late December. The Long War Journal reported on the two other U.S. attacks that occurred against al-Shabaab after Hersi exited the battlefield.

“The US has targeted top leaders of the Amniyat in the recent past. The US killed Tahlil Abdishakur, the previous leader of the Amniyat, in an airstrike in Somalia on Dec. 29, 2014.

“In January 2014, the US killed Sahal Iskudhuq, a senior Shabaab commander who served as a high-ranking member of the Amniyat, in another airstrike.”

It’s unclear how much, if at all, U.S. and Somalian forces relied on information Hersi may have provided to them in targeting these three al-Shabaab leaders.

In another piece of interesting information, Rear Admiral Kirby stated “there were no U.S. boots on the ground” in Somalia when a reporter asked him if it solely was a UAS attack or if “boots on the ground” were involved as well.

At the same time, Kirby clarified that the U.S. does indeed have a presence in Somalia during an exchange with a reporter, showing the ambiguity of the phrase, “boots on the ground.”

“Q: And a year ago, the department said that it had established a new coordination cell in Mogadishu, a small number of people. Has that grown in size or operation? And has that helped with intelligence information that’s enabled these attacks?

“REAR ADM. KIRBY: What I can tell you is the cell is still there and still performing a vital function, but we don’t talk about the size of the footprint there.”

The Inquisitr previously reported on U.S. forces conducting attacks against al-Shabaab in Somalia in September 2014.

[Image via U.S. Air Force Reaper fact sheet]