U.S. airstrikes in Somalia Monday were aimed at killing the leader of the al-Shabab terrorist group and his top commanders, Pentagon and White House officials said Tuesday.
Several Hellfire missiles fired by drones and laser-guided bombs dropped by U.S. warplanes were used in the airstrikes south of the Somali capital of Mogadishu on a seaside encampment and a vehicle near the fishing town of Barawe, the officials said.
"We certainly believe that we hit what we were aiming at," said Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, but he could not confirm whether the strikes had killed Ahmed Abdi Godane, the al-Shabab leader believed responsible for planning a range of terrorist attacks in the region.
If Godane were killed, "it would be a significant blow" to al-Shabab, Kirby said. The New York Times quoted a U.S. official in Nairobi as saying that "we're 80 percent sure" Godane was killed.
Kirby said the U.S. would "continue to use all the tools at our disposal" to "dismantle al-Shabab and other terrorist groups" that threaten U.S. interests and those of allies. He stressed that no U.S. forces were on the ground to help guide the airstrikes.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also said that Godane was the target but declined to say whether the Somali government had asked for the airstrike.
Godane was believed responsible for planning the Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 which killed 67, including the four terrorists who carried it out.
The U.S. action came a day after a group of heavily armed militants attacked a prison in Mogadishu where high-value extremists were held.
Somali forces regained control of the prison after fighting in which all of the attackers, three government soldiers and two civilians were killed, Somali officials said.
The U.S. has been supporting the 22,000-member African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which recently began an offensive called Operation Indian Ocean against al-Shabab strongholds outside Mogadishu.
In the last known U.S. operation in Somalia, Navy SEALs last September raided a beach house in the fishing town of Barawe in an unsuccessful attempt to capture a high-ranking al-Shabab terrorist.
Last December, the U.S. deployed a small team of military advisers to Somalia in the first stationing of U.S. troops on the ground in the Horn of Africa state since the "Black Hawk Down" operation in 1993.
Pentagon officials said the team of fewer than five troops called the "Mogadishu Coordination Cell" was in Somalia to advise the African Union troops backing the central government against al-Shabab.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org.