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US Says Al-Shabab Leader Injured in Airstrike in Somalia

Al-Shabab’s head of external operations was the target of the latest U.S. airstrike against the militant group, two sources, including an al-Shabab defector, told VOA Somali.

Former al-Shabab official Omar Mohamed Abu Ayan told VOA that veteran military commander Osman Mohamed Abdi, known as Moallim Osman, was the target.

The name of the target and his position was also confirmed by Somalia’s Ministry of Information in a statement issued Tuesday. The ministry said Moallim Osman oversees bringing foreign fighters into Somalia to help al-Shabab.

He appears to have survived the airstrike, a spokesperson for U.S. Africa Command said.

“Following a comprehensive battle damage assessment, U.S.-AFRICOM has determined that one al-Shabab leader was injured as a result of the operation,” Lieutenant Commander Timothy S. Pietrack, an AFRICOM spokesman, told VOA on Tuesday.

The strike took place Saturday in Jilib, an al-Shabab stronghold about 385 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu.

“The command’s initial assessment is that no civilians were injured or killed,” an AFRICOM statement said.

Moallim Osman is a veteran commander who has held several positions within al-Shabab, including defense chief, according to a Somali official who requested anonymity because he does not have authorization to speak to the media.

Somali officials also say he was involved in planning the group’s January 2016 attack against an African Union military base manned by Kenyan forces in El Adde. It remains the deadliest militant attack on peacekeepers in Somalia and is the hometown of Moallim Osman, according to Somali security sources.

Media reports put the death toll of the attack at more than 140 Kenyan troops, a number the Kenyan government did not contest. Kenya forces abandoned the base after the attack.

Somali officials say Moallim Osman’s current role includes supervising al-Shabab attacks in Kenya, where for years the group has carried out strikes against security forces, and he directed al-Shabab’s opportunistic incursion into eastern Ethiopia last July.

Saturday’s strike came as Mahad Salad, director of Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency, was in Washington and New York to meet with U.S. officials from the Pentagon, CIA and FBI, according to a source familiar with the visit who did not want to be identified as they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The talks focused on security and counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries, the source noted.

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