Center for Strategic Communication

The US military confirmed that its aircraft launched an airstrike against a “senior leader of al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia.

“The strike took place in the vicinity of Saakow, Somalia,” the Department of Defense said in a statement released today. “At this time, we do not assess there to be any civilian or bystander casualties.”

The identity of the Shabaab leader who was targeted by the US warplanes was not disclosed, and it is unclear if the leader was killed or wounded in the airstrike.

“We are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information, when appropriate, as details become available,” the DoD said.

Shabaab has not released a statement announcing the death of one of its leaders.

Shabaab’s new emir, Sheikh Ahmad Umar, who is also known as Abu Ubaidah, is at the top of the US list of high value targets. Umar replaced Ahmed Abdi Godane, Shabaab’s previous emir, who was killed in a US drone strike in early September. Umar reaffirmed his allegiance to al Qaeda and its emir, Ayman al Zawahiri. Shabaab formally merged with al Qaeda in February 2012 but kept its status as an al Qaeda branch a secret for years prior. [See LWJ reports, Al Qaeda advises Shabaab to keep low profile on links, attack US interests, Shabaab formally joins al Qaeda, and Bin Laden told Shabaab to hide al Qaeda ties.]

Today’s airstrike took place just four days after Shabaab launched a suicide assault on an African Union base in the capital of Mogadishu. Seven Shabaab fighters, three Ugandan soldiers and a civilian were killed during the fighting.

Shabaab said the Christmas day assault on the African Union base was launched to avenge the US airstrike that killed Godane, the group’s previous emir, CNN reported.

Two days after the Christmas day attack on the African Union base, Somali troops captured Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi, Shabaab’s former intelligence chief, who is wanted by the US.

US has targeted top Shabaab and al Qaeda leaders in Somalia before

In addition to the September airstrike that killed Godane, the US has targeted other top Shabaab leaders in drone and conventional airstrikes, as well as special operations raids.

On Jan. 26, the US killed Sahal Iskudhuq, a senior Shabaab commander who served as a high-ranking member of the Amniyat, Shabaab’s intelligence service, in an airstrike in Barawe, a known stronghold of Shabaab.

US drones killed Anta Anta, also known as Ibrahim Ali Abdi, and two lower-level commanders in a strike on Oct. 29, 2013. Anta Anta was a master bombmaker and suicide operations coordinator for the terror group.

The US also launched a special operations raid that same month. On Oct. 7, 2013 in Barawe, US Navy SEALs targeted Shabaab’s external operations chief Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, who is also known as Ikrima. The Shabaab leader, who was not killed or captured during the raid, was in close contact with al Qaeda’s general command in Pakistan and is said to have directed attacks in Kenya. [See Threat Matrix report, Target of SEAL raid in Somalia tied to top al Qaeda leaders.]

The US has launched several operations over the past decade that targeted or killed top Shabaab and al Qaeda leaders in Somalia. Bilal al Berjawi, a British national of Lebanese descent, was killed in an airstrike in January 2012. Al Berjawi was the senior deputy of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the leader of al Qaeda East Africa who also served as a top commander in Shabaab. Fazul was killed by Somali troops at a checkpoint outside Mogadishu in June 2011.

The US also killed Aden Hashi Ayro and Sheikh Muhyadin Omar in an airstrike in the spring of 2008. Before his death, Ayro was the leader of Shabaab.

Fazul and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who also commanded al Qaeda East Africa, were also targeted, along with Abu Tala al Sudani, in US airstrikes in 2007 and 2008 during the Ethiopian invasion and occupation of southern Somalia. And Hassan Turki, another senior Shabaab leader who is closely tied to al Qaeda, is thought to have been targeted in a US strike in 2008.

Nabhan was also the target of a US special forces raid in the Somali town of Barawe in 2009. US commandos killed Nabhan and another terrorist during the operation.

Despite a military offensive led by the African Union and backed by the US that began in 2011, Shabaab still controls vast areas of southern and central Somalia. During the offensive, Shabaab was driven from major cities and towns such as Mogadishu, Kismayo, and Baidoa, but towns such as Bulobarde and Barawe remain under the terror group’s control. The group has weathered the Ethiopian invasion, which began in December 2006 and ousted its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union. Nearly eight years later, Shabaab remains a capable force in southern Somalia and an integral part of al Qaeda’s global network. Additionally, Shabaab has stepped up its attacks in neighboring Kenya.