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U.S. airstrike destroys al-Shabab training camp

Lolita C. Baldor Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A major U.S. airstrike in Somalia has killed more than 150 fighters belonging to al-Shabab, the al-Qaida-affiliated group that has carried out lethal bombings and attacks across the Horn of Africa, the Pentagon said Monday.

The Saturday night air attack appears the deadliest the U.S. has conducted in North Africa in several years. U.S. military and intelligence agencies also are focused on threats from the Islamic State group in Libya, Boko Haram in Nigeria and other extremist groups.

Multiple U.S. warplanes and drones bombed al-Shabab’s Raso training camp after weeks of aerial surveillance detected a large gathering of fighters, officials said. The site is about 120 miles north of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Officials said it appeared the training was ending and the operational phase of a major attack was about to start.

Peter Cook, a Pentagon spokesman, said the air attack targeted militants “who were scheduled to depart the camp” and who posed “an imminent threat” to U.S. and allied African Union forces in Somalia.

He said the bombing degrades al-Shabab’s ability to recruit new members, establish bases and carry out attacks.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, another Pentagon spokesman, said the camp was destroyed. He said analysts estimated up to 200 fighters and trainers had gathered at the site. No civilians were known to be among the casualties, he said.

Al-Shabab rebels have lost much of the territory they once controlled in Somalia, as well as the ports that provided revenue to the group. However, the militants have launched regular attacks, including mass shootings and suicide bombings, and still control many rural areas.

On Jan. 22, suicide bombers and gunmen killed 25 people when they stormed an oceanfront restaurant in Mogadishu. Al-Shabab also was blamed when a bomb exploded aboard a commercial jet last month, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab first took control of Mogadishu in 2006 after its fighters ousted local warlords. The Sunni Muslim group quickly enforced strict Islamic law. Religious police patrolled the streets, and it was illegal to play soccer or listen to music.

Troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia, a rotating force of about 22,000 troops from Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Djibouti, retook Mogadishu in 2011 and drove the militants from many towns in the south.

The U.S. military’s Africa Command, which oversees military operations on the continent, has provided intelligence, training and other logistical support to the Somali army and to African Union troops based there.

Al-Shabab has lost a series of top commanders to U.S. drone strikes, denting the militia’s operational strength, according to U.S. assessments. Its former commander, Ahmed Abdi Godane, was killed in September 2014 by a drone attack, as was his predecessor, Aden Hashi Ayro, in 2008.

Last year, the U.S. assumed a more direct role in some skirmishes against the militants, launching several drone strikes to support African Union forces battling the group in southern Somalia.

News of the latest attack comes as the White House announced Monday that it will disclose how many people have been killed by American drones and other counterterrorism strikes since 2009, when President Barack Obama took office.

Lisa Monaco, Obama’s counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, said the report will be released “in the coming weeks,” casting it as part of a commitment to transparency for U.S. actions overseas. Monaco said the figures would be disclosed annually in the future, although it will ultimately be up to Obama’s successor to decide whether to continue the practice.

The report will include both combatants and civilians the U.S. believes have died in strikes. It won’t cover major war zones like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, but will focus on strikes against extremist targets in other regions such as Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and other locations in North Africa.

“We know that not only is greater transparency the right thing to do, it is the best way to maintain the legitimacy of our counterterrorism actions and the broad support of our allies,” Monaco said at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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