NAIROBI — Al-Shabaab, a Somali militant organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, claimed two twin attacks in Somalia on Monday, both targeting Western forces backing the government.
The U.S. Africa Command and the Somali government said no coalition members were injured or killed, but the brazenness of the attacks highlighted the insurgent group’s continued ability to destabilize the country.
One attack, apparently led by an explosives-laden vehicle and followed by foot soldiers, took place at the gates of Baledogle airfield, where the U.S. military stations drones and trains Somali soldiers. The second took place in the capital, Mogadishu, and involved the bombing of an Italian military convoy returning to base from a training exercise as part of a European Union training mission in Somalia.
“This attack, though ineffective, demonstrates the direct threat al-Shabaab poses to Americans, our allies, and interests in the region,” said Maj. Gen. William Gayler, U.S. Africa Command director of operations.
In response, U.S. forces carried out two airstrikes and engaged in small-arms fire with militants, killing 10, U.S. Africa Command said in a statement Monday.
Italy’s Defense Ministry said none of its troops were injured in the Mogadishu attack. Somalia’s deputy interior minister, Aden Isak, said the “failed attack” on the airfield in Baledogle resulted only in the deaths of al-Shabaab fighters.
The U.S. base at Baledogle was recently expanded and is central to the U.S. military’s Somalia strategy, which largely relies on training Somali special forces and using drones to strike al-Shabaab targets.
The U.S. military has conducted 55 airstrikes in Somalia this year, killing more than 300 fighters and continuing an upward year-on-year trend since President Trump relaxed rules of engagement in early 2017. The United States has 650 to 800 Defense Department personnel in Somalia, according to U.S. Africa Command.
The base is in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, where al-Shabaab is most active.
Al-Shabab, which often exaggerates its battlefield operations, claimed in a statement posted online that the attack began with multiple explosives-laden trucks, which it said had allowed a group of militants to get into the base where they “engaged American troops.”
Al-Shabaab has waged what amounts to a guerrilla war against the Somali government and its foreign backers since it was dislodged from many of southern Somalia’s cities in 2011. The group now controls only rural areas in the south, but it regularly attacks Somali cities. It seeks to take over the government and impose a strict version of Islamic law.
Most analysts put the number of al-Shabaab fighters somewhere just short of 10,000, although the true number is hard to discern, as many of the group’s members blend into civilian life. The group has carried out near-daily attacks across Somalia this year, killing more than 1,600 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.