The Pentagon conducted an aerial strike against the extremist Al-Shabaab group in Somalia on Monday, US authorities said. It is reported the strike was aimed at the leader of the notorious network behind Kenya’s Westgate Mall massacre in 2013.
"US military forces conducted an operation in Somalia today against the Al-Shabaab network. We are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate," said Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.
Revealed: US operating secretly in Somalia since 1997
The American drone targeted Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane as he left a meeting of the group's top leaders, a senior Somali intelligence official said, as quoted by AP. Godane is the leader of the Sunni extremist group, which is believed to have formed a partnership with Al-Qaeda.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the aerial attack occurred in a forest near the Sablale district, 105 miles (170 kilometers) south of Mogadishu, where Al-Shabaab has a training base.
"There was an airstrike near Sablale. We saw something," Abdiqadir Mohamed Nor, governor of Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, told AP.
US forces reportedly launched Hellfire missiles from a drone at two vehicles in southern Somalia with the intention of taking out Al-Shabaab's top leader, NBC news reported, citing an unnamed US official.
The military action against the East African country comes almost exactly one year after the terrorist group attacked the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 67 people and injuring dozens.
Journalists in Somalia said suspected US drones fired missiles near the port city of Barawe, a stronghold for Al-Shabaab, The Washington Post reported.
The Pentagon is still awaiting word on whether the attack was successful.
Last October, the Pentagon initiated a drone strike that killed Al-Shabaab's top explosives expert, while another missile strike, in January of this year, killed a high-ranking intelligence officer of the group.
The latest US drone strike comes after a group of suspected Al-Shabaab members had attempted to free other militants held in a high-security prison in Mogadishu. Somalia's government forces, which have been battling the Sunni militant group since 2006, regained control of the prison on Monday.
Al-Shabaab is now mostly active in Somalia's rural regions after being ousted from the capital by African Union forces in 2011.
Also on Monday, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a regional peacekeeping mission operated by the African Union announced its forces, working jointly with the Somalia National Army, had liberated several towns as they advanced on the strategic town of Jalalaqsi.
"The Somali National Army supported by AMISOM forces have faced little resistance from their advancement as Al-Shabaab simply melted away when they heard the aligned forces [were] approaching," AMISOM announced in a statement.
Al-Shabaab, which joined forces with Al-Qaeda in 2012, is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and several other Western countries.