American military planes destroyed a suspected terrorist camp in Somalia during airstrikes targeting the head of the al Shabab network, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
U.S. special operations forces using manned aircraft and drones carried out the bombing raid Monday aimed at killing Ahmed Abdi Godane, leader of the main al Qaida affiliate in the east Africa country, the Pentagon said.
“Actionable intelligence led us to that site where we believe he was,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman. “We certainly believe we hit what we were aiming at.”
The airstrikes hit an encampment south of the Somali capital of Mogadishu and a vehicle there with “several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions,” Kirby said.
Pentagon officials were still determining whether Godane and perhaps other senior al Shabab leaders were killed in the attack.
“We are still assessing the results of the operation, and we’ll provide additional information when and if appropriate,” Kirby said.
No U.S. ground forces were used in the raid, he said.
Kirby declined to say whether the United States had given the Somali government advance notice of the attack against al Shabab.
“I don’t have a tick-tock on the notification process, but this is very much in keeping with the kinds of operations that we conduct throughout the region and in partnership with the leadership there,” he said.
The operation came almost 11 months after a failed raid in Somalia, in which members of U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six, a fabled commando unit that killed Osama bin Laden, retreated without their target after a 30-minute firefight at a seaside villa in Baraawe, Somalia.
The commandos had tried to capture Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, a Somali-born Kenyan linked to the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in which 213 people were killed, most of them Kenyans.
Before the Navy SEALS killed bin Laden on May 2, 2011, at his complex in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the United States did not inform the Pakistani government of the raid.
Traveling on Tuesday aboard Air Force One en route to Charlotte, N.C., White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest ticked off a half-dozen terror attacks for which al Shabab has claimed responsibility.
The group, which linked to al Qaida in 2012, said it carried out the attack last September on a Nairobi shopping mall that left at least 67 people dead.
“So this is a threat that we have been aware of and countering for quite some time,” Earnest said. “And the United States stands with our international partners, particularly the African Union mission in Somalia, that are working to support the federal government of Somalia build a secure and stable future for the Somali people.”
Asked whether President Barack Obama, who likely would have had to sign off on the air raid against al Shabab, considered the group a threat to the United States, Earnest responded that “as evidenced by some of the high-profile operations that this organization has carried out in the past, it’s evident that American interests at least are threatened by this organization.”
The State Department named al Shabab a foreign terrorist organization in February 2008. The group claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings July 11, 2010, that killed more than 70 people in the Uganda capital of Kampala, including one American.
In recent months, the group has said it also carried out a suicide bombing in the small African nation of Djibouti, killing a Turkish citizen and wounding several soldiers from Western countries, and detonated a car bomb at Mogadishu International Airport, killing six, among them members of a U.N. convoy.
Somalia is the site of a dark moment in U.S. military history. Memorialized as “Black Hawk Down” in books and movies, two helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu by Somali militiamen in October 1993. Mobs hacked the pilots to death and dragged their bodies through the streets.
The incident triggered a rescue attempt by U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force commandos, sparking a pitched battle in which 18 Americans and hundreds of Somalians died.