The U.S. conducted the first airstrikes of the New Year in Somalia as a sign of continuing support for the Mogadishu government against al-Shabaab insurgents as U.S. troops continue to pull out of the country, officials with U.S. Africom Command said.
The two New Year's Day airstrikes hit al-Shabaab compounds, destroying two according to the initial assessment. No civilians were killed or injured, officials said.
"This action clearly demonstrates our continuing commitment to Somalia and our regional partners," Army Maj. Gen. Joel Tyler, director of operations for AFRICOM, said in a statement.
"We retain the means and the will to strike the al-Shabaab terrorist network when necessary to protect the region and ultimately, our own nation," Tyler said, referring to AFRICOM's repeated statements that the al-Qaida-linked group poses a potential threat to the U.S. homeland.
The U.S. conducted at least 51 airstrikes in Somalia last year, compared to 63 in 2019 and 47 in 2018, according to AFRICOM.
The New Year's Day strikes were the third since the Defense Department announced Dec. 4 that most of the 700-800 U.S. troops in the country were pulling out. President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal, which is being conducted under the name Operation Octave Quartz.
Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the AFRICOM commander, described the operation as a "directed repositioning" of troops to countries neighboring Somalia.
"To be clear, the U.S. is not withdrawing or disengaging from East Africa," Townsend said in a Dec. 19 statement. "We remain committed to helping our African partners build a more secure future."
As has been AFRICOM's practice, the type of aircraft used in the New Year's Day strikes were not specified.
On Dec. 22, AFRICOM announced that a naval armada including the aircraft carrier Nimitz' strike group and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) with 2,500 Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard, had been positioned off the Somalia coast to cover the troop drawdown.
On Dec. 31, the Associated Press reported that the decision had been made to return the Nimitz to the U.S.
"Our strikes help keep these terrorists off balance to help our partners then address deeper problems such as governance and development," Air Force Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, commander of Joint Task Force Quartz, said in Saturday's statement.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.