MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia’s government said on Wednesday it had requested a U.S. air strike that killed scores of suspected militants to help pave the way for an upcoming ground offensive against Islamist group al Shabaab.
The U.S. military’s Africa Command (Africom) said on Tuesday it had killed more than 100 of the al Qaeda-linked insurgents in the strike on a camp 125 miles (200 km) northwest of the capital Mogadishu.
“Those militants were preparing explosives and attacks. Operations against al Shabaab have been stepped up,” Somali Information Minister Abdirahman Omar Osman told Reuters.
“We have asked the U.S. to help us from the air to make our readied ground offensive more successful.”
Al Shabaab spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab denied the air strike had taken place. “It is just... propaganda,” he told Reuters.
The United States has ramped up operations in Somalia this year after President Donald Trump loosened the rules of engagement in March.
Africom reported eight U.S. air strikes from May to August, compared to 13 for the whole of 2016. Including Tuesday’s strike, it has reported five this month alone.
The Pentagon said the U.S. military would continue to target militants in strikes in coordination with the Somali government.
Al Shabaab has lost control of most of Somalia’s cities and towns since African Union peacekeepers supporting Somali troops pushed the insurgency out of the capital Mogadishu in 2011. But it retains a strong presence in parts of the south and centre.
Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, a dual U.S.-Somali citizen, has taken a harder line than his predecessors against the insurgency since he was sworn in earlier this year.
But his plans have been undermined by the poor state of the Somali military and political infighting.
He has also had to try to mend fences with the powerful Habar Gidir clan, following a raid involving U.S. forces on the town of Bariire in August in which 10 people were killed including three children.
Additional reporting by Feisal Omar in Mogadishu; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Katharine Houreld and John Stonestreet