US Forces in Somalia

Library image of an armed Reaper drone, December 2019 (US Air Force/ Senior Sergeant Haley Stevens)

Belligerent
US Forces
Country
Somalia
start date
end date
Airwars Grading
Belligerent Assessment
Strike Status
Strike Type
Air

Incident Code

USSOM010

Incident date

June 21–23, 2011

Location

Kismayo, Lower Juba, Somalia

Geolocation

-0.404956, 42.498817 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Neighbourhood/area

Airwars assessment

In the first known lethal drone strike in Somalia, Predators struck a militant training camp 10km south of Kismayo. Further missiles reportedly hit a second target near the airport. At least one member of Al-Shabaab was killed – possibly “many” – and up to three were wounded, according to local and international media. There were no reports of civilian harm.

Several sources reported at least one militant’s death while other pointed to “many”. Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig, Somalia’s deputy defence minister, told AP the strike killed “many” foreign fighters. “I have their names, but I don’t want to release them,” he claimed.

Ibrahim al Afghani, also known as Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, a senior leader in al Shabaab, was reportedly wounded or killed, although Strategic Forecasting claimed on August 11th 2011 that Afghani was alive and had replaced Ahmed Abdi Godane as the emir of al Shabaab.

Al Shabaab did not respond to either report, though Afghani has not appeared in public since. Somali Report, however, cited an al Shabaab official who claimed that no militants were killed.

Meanwhile, between one and three militants were wounded, according to reports. A local al Shabaab leader, Sheik Hassan Yaqub, reported two wounded while resident Mohammed Aden reported seeing three wounded militants. Among them was British citizen Bilal al Berjawi, killed in a subsequent US drone strike in January 2012.

There was no public announcement of the strike by the US. However, an anonymous  “senior U.S. military official familiar with the operation” told the Washington Post “a U.S. drone aircraft fired on two leaders of a militant Somali organization tied to al-Qaeda, apparently wounding them”.

The Washington Post added: “Both of the al-Shabab leaders targeted in the attack had ‘direct ties’ to American-born cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, the military official said.” However, the Post reported that “The White House declined” to respond to questions about the attack.

US helicopters reportedly landed after the strike, with troops retrieving some dead and injured. The strike was the first joint mission conducted by JSOC and the CIA, CNN claimed.

In a subsequent FOIA response obtained by journalist Joshua Eaton in May 2019, AFRICOM said it had conducted a strike on what it says was an “al-Shabaab name objective”, in Ras Matooni, Somalia on June 21st 2011. This is the closest match we have for this strike.

It remains possible that there were other US actions – perhaps covert – around this time. The Long War Journal said that a “Predator” strike occurred on June 25th. And Somalia Report flagged an incident the previous day, asserting that “On June 24th, helos from Camp Simba took out a Shabaab convoy.”

The incident occured between 7:00 pm and 8:00 pm local time.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    1–5
  • Belligerents reported injured
    1–3

Sources (14) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention that the strike targeted a convoy near a training camp 10 kilometers south of Kismayo. A subsequent FOIA response pointed to the vicinity of the area Ras Matooni (-0.46484, 42.47665). The coordinates for the area 10 kilometers south of Kismayo are: -0.404956, 42.498817. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

United States Armed Forces

On June 30th 2011, the Washington Post reported:

A U.S. drone aircraft fired on two leaders of a militant Somali organization tied to al-Qaeda, apparently wounding them, a senior U.S. military official familiar with the operation said Wednesday.

The strike last week against senior members of al-Shabab comes amid growing concern within the U.S. government that some leaders of the Islamist group are collaborating more closely with al-Qaeda to strike targets beyond Somalia, the military official said.

The action was publicly confirmed in a DoD FOIA response in 2019.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    1–5
  • Belligerents reported injured
    1–3

Sources (14) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USSOM009

Incident date

April 3, 2011

Location

Dhoobley, Gedo, Somalia

Geolocation

0.411429, 41.008691 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Town level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Town

Airwars assessment

At least one militant and as many as “three dozen” were killed in an alleged US-waged airstrike in Dhobley, Jubaland, international and regional media reported. The attack marked the beginning of a concerted campaign in Somalia against al Shabaab by the Obama administration.

After a reporting gap of 18 months, US air attacks appear to have resumed. Reports of intense fighting for control of the town of Dhobley between al Shabaab and Somali forces mentioned an airstrike, which Shabelle reported had killed several militants. Somalia Report stated: “On April 6, shortly after the exploitation of data from captured al-Qaeda cell phones and laptops, three dozen al Shabab members were killed”, although later reports say only one commander was killed. Jabreel Malik Muhammed was killed in the strike, according to the Observer (Uganda).

The Long War Journal reported: “A recent report in Shabelle on the fighting in the border town of Dhobley in southern Somalia and the death of a Shabaab commander includes speculation that airpower is being employed against Shabaab fighters and commanders…Some reports suggested that during the battle, aerial strikes targeted Al Shabaab officials, killing number of Al Shabaab military officers.The Somali government and the African Union forces backing them do not possess aircraft needed to carry out airstrikes, but Ethiopia, Kenya, and the US do.”

In what may be a linked incident, All Africa reported two days after the attack that “Dozens of injured Al shabaab fighters from Dholey town, where fighting between Somali forces and Al shabaab took place one day ago, were brought to Kismayo town, about 500 KM south of Mogadishu. Sources confirmed Shabelle Media Network that the wounded Al shabaab fighters were admitted medical facilities at the center of Kismayo town.”

Somalia Report also asserted that “On April 6th shortly after the exploitation of data from captured al qaeda cel phones and laptops, three dozen al shabaab members were killed.” This may indicate a separate event several days later.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attackers
    United States Armed Forces, Ethiopian Military Forces, Kenyan Military Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    1–36

Sources (7) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention that the strike took place in the border town Dhoobley, for which the coordinates are: 0.411429, 41.008691. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Ethiopian Military Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Ethiopian Military Forces
  • Ethiopian Military Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Kenyan Military Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Kenyan Military Forces
  • Kenyan Military Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attackers
    United States Armed Forces, Ethiopian Military Forces, Kenyan Military Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    1–36

Sources (7) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USSOM008-C

Incident date

September 14, 2009

Location

مدينة ﺑﺮﺍﻭة, Baraawe, Lower Shabelle, Somalia

Geolocation

1.112554, 44.028921 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Town level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Town

Airwars assessment

Up to six people, including at least one possible civilian, were killed and at least two possible civilians were wounded, as a US-launched raid targeted and reportedly killed a high value al Qaeda/ al Shabab member, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, international media reported.

The attack marked the first known lethal operation by US forces in Somalia of the Obama administration.

In an operation codenamed ‘Celestial Balance’ US Special Forces launched a helicopter raid into Somalia, killing Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, wanted in connection with the Mombasa attacks. “We’d been tracking him for years,” a senior military official told Sean D. Naylor, in the Army Times. “We knew his travel route, we knew the vehicles he was using.” Three options were initially mooted to Obama and his senior advisers: to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles from a warship off the Somali coast; a helicopter attack on the convoy, or a ‘snatch and grab operation attempting to take Nabhan alive. According to Klaidman “as everyone left the meeting that evening it was clear that the only viable plan was the lethal one.”

The US learned that Nabhan’s convoy would be setting off from Mogadishu to meet Islamic militants in the coastal town of Baraawe, the Daily Beast reported. As the convoy neared Baraawe, JSOC struck. A number of 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment AH-6 Little Bird helicopters flew from a Navy ship and attacked the militants as they were breakfasting, killing six, including Nabhan, according to news reports, including Army Times. However, NPR reported that SEAL commandos fired missiles into Nabhan’s car.

The Army Times and Daily Beast stated that one helicopter also landed, with operators jumping out to load the bodies of Nabhan and three others into the aircraft, in order to retrieve Nabhan’s DNA. Following this operation, a Pentagon official told the Daily Beast that the US Special Forces wanted to increase their use of Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE), not just to kill terror targets but to rummage through their belongings”, but that “the president was not supportive” and that this became a bone of contention between Special Ops and the Obama administration.

It was unclear among sources how many militants exactly were killed, and whether civilians were among the victims. While both the Guardian and Long War Journal said that two people were killed (Nabhan and another terrorist), Mareeg, which also reported two deaths, only noted that one of them was a belligerent, suggesting a civilian fatality.

The number of killed militants thus spans from two to six, as reported by Army Times, while one civilian death cannot be excluded.

Several sources reported that the attack also wounded two people, whose combatant status again remains unclear among reports.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 1
  • Civilians reported injured
    0–2
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected targets
    Al-Shabaab, Al Qaeda in East Africa
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2–6
  • Belligerents reported injured
    0–2

Sources (12) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

  • Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan was wanted by the FBI in connection with two attacks in 2002. Image via Kenyan Police

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention that the strike targeted a vehicle as it travelled through a village near Baraawe, heading south from Mogadishu. The coordinates for the town of Baraawe are: 1.112554, 44.028921. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

United States Armed Forces

TIME, September 9th, 2009:

"The deadly drama of piracy, terrorism and humanitarian catastrophe that is Somalia took another twist on Sept. 14. A squad of U.S. special operations helicopter gunships, which were launched off a Navy vessel in the Indian Ocean, attacked and killed an alleged al-Qaeda leader in Somalia, U.S. officials told TIME. The dead man was believed to be Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a 28-year-old Kenyan wanted for attacks on a seaside hotel and an Israeli airliner in 2002 in Kenya."

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 1
  • Civilians reported injured
    0–2
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected targets
    Al-Shabaab, Al Qaeda in East Africa
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2–6
  • Belligerents reported injured
    0–2

Sources (12) [ collapse]