On the 17th of December, 2023, a declared U.S. airstrike reportedly killed an Al-Shabaab leader, Maalim Ayman, near Jilib in southern Somalia.
On the same day as the airstrike, United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) released a statement on its website, stating that the airstrike had been conducted “in coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, against the terrorist group Al-Shabaab”. The statement went on to claim that “one Al-Shabaab militant had been killed” and, whilst AFRICOM did not initially identify the militant in question, it was stated that the impact of the strike had been assessed and that there were “no civilian casualties” resulting from the strike.
Following the news of the death of Maalim Ayman on the 17th of December, released by Somali officials, the Wall Street Journal published an article regarding the airstrike, which noted that Ayman had been “the alleged mastermind behind a 2020 attack that left three Americans dead at a Kenyan airbase”. It is now known that of the three Americans killed, one was a U.S. soldier, and two were U.S. Defense Department contractors.
The Wall Street Journal article further stated that both U.S. and Kenyan forces had used the Manda Bay base, located just 60 miles from the Somali border in order to “support counter-terrorism operations against Al-Shabaab” and noted that, earlier in the year, the State Department had announced “a $10 million reward for information leading to Ayman’s arrest or conviction”.
Garowe Online wrote on the 17th of December, that since the attack in Kenya on the 5th of January 2020, the U.S. Army had been “pursuing the attackers”. Garowe Online specified that Ayman had “mainly organized the attack” against the airbase and had subsequently been “cornered after a search for months”.
VOA (Voice of America) News, on the 21st of December, reported that the U.S had “identified Ayman as the leader of ‘Jaysh Ayman’: an Al-Shabaab unit that conducts terrorist attacks and operations in Kenya and Somalia”. The VOA report further stated that ‘Jaysh Ayman’ (Army of Ayman) included “foreign militants recruited by Al-Shabaab largely from East Africa”.
One report from Anadolu Agency, dated December 21st, quoted Somali Information Minister Daud Aweis who said that “Ayman was accountable for planning multiple lethal terrorist attacks in Somalia and nearby countries”. The Anadolu Agency report also noted that the U.S. State Department had categorized Ayman as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist in November, 2020”.
The Washington Post published an article on the 22nd of December which stated that the ‘Jaysh Ayman’ militant group was Al-Shabaab’s main unit in Kenya and the unit had attacked Garissa University, killing 148 people in 2015. The Washington Post emphasized that this was “the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy”.
The article in the Washington Post also contained a quote from Somali Information Minister Daud Aweis who addressed questions regarding positive confirmation that Ayman had been killed by the U.S. strike: “we can confirm 100 percent that it was him. It took us a few days to make the final confirmation”. Aweis additionally stated that Ayman had been the sole target of the strike.
The Daily Telegraph, on the 22nd of December, reported that the attack which killed Ayman had been a “U.S. airstrike” but added that Ayman had been “killed in a joint operation”. Also on the 22nd of December, The New York Times more specifically stated that Ayman “was killed by a U.S. Special Operations drone strike in a joint operation with the Somali national army”, according to Somali and U.S. officials.
The local time of the incident is unknown.
Sources (9) [ collapse]
US Forces Assessment:
Original strike reports
In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. Africa Command carried out an airstrike against the al-Shabaab terrorist group near Jilib, Somalia on Dec. 17.
The command’s initial assessment is that one al-Shabaab militant was killed in the strike and that there were no civilian casualties. U.S. Africa Command takes great measures to prevent civilian casualties. Protecting civilians remains a vital part of the command’s operations to promote a more secure and stable Africa.
This is another step to defeat the terrorist group that undermines Somalia’s peace and development. Al-Shabaab is the largest and most kinetically active al-Qaeda network in the world and has proved both its will and capability to attack U.S. forces and threaten U.S. security interests. U.S. Africa Command, alongside its partners, continues to take action to prevent this malicious terrorist group from planning and conducting attacks on civilians.
Somalia remains key to the security environment in East Africa. U.S. Africa Command’s forces will continue training, advising, and equipping partner forces to give them the tools that they need to degrade al-Shabaab.
U.S. Africa Command will continue to assess the results of the operation and will provide additional information as appropriate. Specific details about the units involved and assets used will not be released in order to ensure operational security.
U.S. Africa Command, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, with partners, counters malign actors and transnational threats, responds to crises, and strengthens security forces in order to advance U.S. national interests and promote regional security, stability and prosperity.