Ugandan Airstrikes in Somalia Kill 189 Al-Shabab Fighters

Somali officials and the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) claimed killing 189 al-Shabab fighters late Friday and in the early hours of Saturday in an operation in southern Somalia.

Talking to VOA Somali Service by phone, Lower Shabelle Governor Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Siidi said Ugandan soldiers under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), using attack helicopter gunships, have killed nearly 200 al-Shabab militants.

Earlier, the Ugandan army’s deputy spokesman, Lt. Col. Deo Akiki, said, “Their soldiers killed at least 189 al-Shabab fighters in the operation and destroyed two mounted weapons and motorbikes in separate fire strikes.”

Siidi said the strikes, along with ground assaults by the joint troops, occurred Friday and early Saturday in a string of villages between the Qoryoley and Janaale districts in the southern Somali region of Lower Shabelle.

“The militias were struck in their hideouts in the villages of Sigaale, Adimole and Kayitoy, just over 100 kilometers southwest of the capital, Mogadishu,” Nur said.

A statement from the Ugandan Army said that during the operation, “a large number of military hardware and items used by the terrorist were also destroyed.”

“The UPDF also disrupted an al-Shabab meeting, injuring several terrorists in Donca-daafeedow, which is seven kilometers from the Janaale town,” the statement added.

Residents, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid retribution, told VOA they could see military helicopters striking key al-Shabab targets and hideouts in the thickets and farmlands around Janaale town.

AMISOM has been in Somalia for more than 10 years, keeping the peace and supporting Somalia’s government to fend off attacks from al-Shabab militants. The group aims to topple the government and impose its own harsh interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.

The group controlled large swaths of south-central Somalia until 2011, when it was driven out of Mogadishu by African Union troops.

Speaking of the latest operations, both Somali and Ugandan military officials say this was the most al-Shabab fighters killed in a military operation in a single day.

Governor Siidii says AMISOM has introduced a new strategy and unveiled fresh military power.

“The Ugandan soldiers are using attack helicopter gunships in their operations for the first time, and also the Somali National Army, with the help of AMISOM, came up with a strategy of aggressive attacks against militants in their hideouts, rather than wait their attacks,” he said.

This operation comes a week after the United States military said it had completed the withdrawal of troops from Somalia.

AFRICOM spokesperson Colonel Christopher Karns confirmed to VOA Somali earlier that repositioning of the troops was completed ahead of the mid-January deadline mandated by a presidential directive last December.

The number of U.S. military personnel in Somalia ranged from 650 to 800 service members. U.S. troops supported and mentored an elite Somali unit known as the Danab “lightning” brigade.

In recent days, al-Shabab militants had intensified their attacks using improvised explosive devices and landmines targeting Somali security officials in Mogadishu and other major towns.

The militant group claimed responsibility Saturday for a landmine explosion in Mogadishu that killed four people and injured two former lawmakers, Hussein Arale and Muhidin Afrah.

On Tuesday, the militants claimed responsibility for another blast that killed the deputy commissioner for security and politics in Garasbaale, Abdi-Rashid Dubad. Six others were injured.