Fifty-three Al-Shabaab terrorists, among them 10 top commanders, were on Thursday killed in two separate dawn attacks on one of the terrorist group’s planning and operation bases in Somalia.
The first attack by a US drone took place in Juungal, between Baardheere and Buur Hajje, at around 2am where two top commanders identified as Jama Deere and Ismael Jamhad were killed.
An hour later, the Amisom forces launched an artillery attack in Jungal, about 40km west of Bardhere in the Gedo Region, where 51 terrorists, including several middle-level commanders behind the Mandera attacks were killed.
Military spokesman Colonel David Obonyo said that a total of 11 pickup trucks mounted with machine guns were destroyed and an unknown number of terrorists escaped with injuries to Bardheere.
“Jungal was one of the main Al-Shabaab planning and operations bases in (the) Gedo region which has seen an increase in militia activities recently. The strike at Jungal is therefore a major setback to the terrorists,” said Colonel Obonyo.
The killing of Mr Deere and Jamhad in the US drone attack is part of an intensified campaign by the United States against terrorists in Kenya and Somalia.
Residents said that several loud blasts were heard at dawn before the bodies were later found. The bodies were collected Thursday for a further forensic identification. Though the terrorists have been driven from most of the key towns they once held, Bardere is one of the few towns still controlled by Al-Shabaab.
After the blasts, heavily armed Al-Shabaab fighters rushed to the scene, near the Juba River, about 460km west of Mogadishu, where the dead men were found. After the attack, the telecommunications network was cut off for hours.
There has been a major and unprecedented involvement of the US security agents in the fight against terrorism in the region, prompted by President Obama’s visit to Kenya in the next week.
Already, at least eleven terror suspects, two from the Dadaab refugee camp, have been arrested but details about their whereabouts remain scanty.
Security reports indicate that Kenya was declared relatively safe before the White House announced President Obama’s visit. However, the pre-announcement assessment recommended intensifying the fight against terror.
As a result, US counter-terrorism officers enhanced their operations in the East African region, focusing more on Somalia. The enhanced operation has also led to the killing of Mr Adan Garar, an Al-Shabaab leader linked to the 2013 Westgate attack, in a drone attack in Diinsoor, southern Somalia, on March 12.
A day earlier, seven other Al-Shabaab terrorists were also killed in a battle with Kenyan soldiers in Lagolie, a small township near Elade, also in the Gedo region. A KDF soldier died while another sustained injuries during the fight at 9.30am on Wednesday.
“Amisom operations will continue to engage the militia and ensure that its mandate to stabilize Somalia is fully achieved. The entry of KDF in Gedo is part of efforts to prevent infiltration of the terrorists into Kenya through the common border and safeguard the peace and security of Kenya,” he added.
Another Kenyan Al-Shabaab commander, Mohamed Kuno, alias Gamadheere, believed to be behind the Garissa University College attack, is also sought by the joint security forces.
He is a former teacher and principal at Madarasa Najah in Garissa and had three aliases; Sheikh Mahamad, Dulyadin and Gamadheere.
He is also known to have an extensive terrorist network within Kenya particularly at the Dadaab refugee camp.
The US has killed several senior members of Al-Shabaab in drone strikes in the past.
On March 12 this year, another senior Al-Shabaab commander Adan Garar who masterminded the Westgate terrorist attack was also killed in Bardhere. He was also behind the disrupted vehicle-borne IED in Mombasa.
Garar died after a vehicle he was travelling in was hit by a missile fired from a drone. Two of his aides were also killed in the 2 pm strike carried out by the United States forces.
He was the highest ranked Al-Shabaab commander to be killed since Ahmed Abdi Godane died in a similar strike in September last year. A spokesman for the US Department of Defence said that the death of Mr Garar dealt “another significant blow to the Shabaab terrorist organisation.”
Early this year, the US Department of State blocked the assets of two senior Al-Shabaab officials — Ahmed Diriye and Mahad Karate — who were said to be behind recent attacks in Kenya. The freeze was meant to impede terrorist funding and cut off access to financial and other resources from sympathisers.
Diriye became the leader of Al-Shabaab after Godane’s death.
At the weekend, an unknown number of Al-Shabaab fighters were killed after KDF planes bombed two Al-Shabaab bases at Tunno Baruaquo and Laan Quarap, also in Gedo. The airstrikes took place on Saturday and Sunday.
Col Obonyo said Al-Shabaab had set up the “operational camps” in Gedo because it is not covered by Amisom troops operating in Somalia.