Somalia confirmed Wednesday that its forces rescued 35 children who had been recruited by the Al Shabaab jihadists.
The government said the children were found at a camp in Jilyale, Wanlaweyn district, about 110km southwest of the capital Mogadishu.
“Somali National Security Forces rescued 35 kidnapped male children from an Al-Shabaab indoctrination camp in southern Somalia on 19 January 2018,” the government statement read.
"The government will provide all basic services to these children, as the necessity in rehabilitating these children is indeed critical to their long-term physiological and mental well-being," the statement read.
The Somali authorities accused the Al Qaeda-linked insurgents of recruiting children but vowed the government would never accept kids to be used as militias.
“Terrorists group, Al-Shabaab has no regard for the welfare of children and they demonstrated their cruelty to children. Al-Shabaab indoctrinates children and forces them to terrorist’s activities.”
Meanwhile, the US military's Africa Command (Africom) said Wednesday that American forces took part in the school raid in Lower Shabelle region that led to the rescue of the children.
Africom said that during the rescue operation, the Somali forces killed fighters who appeared to be under 18.
"During the mission, the Somali National Security Forces received hostile fire... [and] returned fire in self-defence," Africom said in a statement.
In the ensuing firefight, five "enemy combatants" were killed and six were wounded.
Some of those killed appear to have been under the age of 18, Africom said, without providing additional details.
"We support the Federal Government of Somalia and Unicef efforts to reunite these children with their families," the statement read.
Officials said US soldiers did not fire their weapons in the engagement.
After the raid, the Al Shabaab had claimed that Somali government forces backed by drones stormed the school, killing four children and a teacher.
Al-Shabaab have been trying, since 2007, to overthrow the Somali government, which has the support of the international community.
The government is luring defectors and has set up centres for the rehabilitation of fighters abandoning the jihadist group.