U.S. military airstrikes in Somalia over the weekend destroyed a secret al-Shabab base close to the capital, Mogadishu, and killed at least 62 militants, including 10 middle-ranking commanders, according to Somali officials and intelligence sources.
“The repeated strikes ... targeted the al-Shabab base on a mountain area near Gendershe, where al-Shabab militants have been training new recruits and used to launch attacks against government soldiers and the African Union peacekeepers,” said Abdifitah Haji Abdulle, deputy governor of the Lower Shabelle region.
A Somali intelligence official said the militants established the secret base about 53 kilometers south of Mogadishu because of its proximity to the capital and the port town of Marka.
U.S. and Somali government forces have targeted other Shabab bases in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region for years, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"So, the militants decided to set up a new base ... close to the Indian Ocean and Mogadishu to avoid the intelligence radar,” the official told VOA's Somali Service.
Gendershe is a village on the coastal road linking the Somali capital to Marka.
Earlier this month, two senior Somali military commanders and several soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb blast hit their vehicle in the nearby village of Dhanane.
Abdulle said that was when the Somali intelligence officials realized the strong presence of al-Shabab in the area and asked for U.S. airstrikes.
The U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) said four strikes were carried out on Saturday, killing 34 militants, and two more on Sunday, which killed 28.The airstrikes did not kill any civilians, the statement said.
"Africa Command and our Somali partners conducted these airstrikes to prevent terrorists from using remote areas as a safe haven to plot, direct, inspire and recruit for future attacks," AFRICOM said in a statement.
The U.S. has now conducted nearly 40 airstrikes in Somalia this year, killing approximately 300 al-Shabab members.
Expected military operation
Other Somali military officials told VOA that the strikes were meant to deny al-Shabab the ability to regroup ahead of an operation to flush them out of Middle Jubba, the only region they fully control in southern Somalia.Somali government officials believe Buale, the provincial capital of the region, is where the militants organize attacks and hold their top meetings.
“A preparation for a joint military operations by the Somali army and the Kenyan troops, who are part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), is in its final days. I cannot say when, exactly,” said Farah Ahmed, a Somali military official involved in the preparation.
According to a statement from AMISOM, the joint operations will involve troops from AMISOM, Jubbaland State Forces and the Somali National Army.
Mohamud Sayid Aden, the Jubbaland deputy president, said preparations for the joint military operations are at “an advanced stage.”
The operation was announced on Sunday following talks between Aden and a top AMISOM commander, Maj. Gen. Charles Tai Gituai, in the southern town of Kismayo.
The preparations can be seen in the towns along the Somali-Kenya border, where heavily armed Kenyan military forces were seen advancing toward the region, witnesses told VOA.
Al-Shabab, an al-Qaida affiliate, wants to overthrow Somalia's central government and turn the country into a strict Islamic state.