US air strike kills three ISIS militants in Somalia just weeks after group's deputy head was killed

The US has carried out dozens of strikes this year, although most are against Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab

Soldiers walk past cars burning after car bomb detonated in Mogadishu, Somalia, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)
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US forces in Africa have carried out an air strike against ISIS targets in Somalia, marking what is believed to be the 32nd air operation of the year just weeks after another raid killed the group’s second-in- command in the country.

The operation killed three ISIS militants on Friday in the Golis Mountains in northern Somalia, said the US Africa Command, Africom. No civilians were killed or wounded, it added.

"This air strike eliminated ISIS-Somalia members staged in a remote location in northern Somalia," said Major General Gregg Olson, Africom's director of operations.

"Removing these extremists impacts ISIS-Somalia's ability to terrorise innocent Somalis in the region and it creates confusion within the terrorist network."

ISIS has a relatively small presence in Somalia compared to the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shebab.

But ISIS has been particularly active in the northern Puntland region, where its fighters have established training camps and depots for weapons coming mainly from nearby Yemen.

Al Shebab, by far the largest radical Islamist group in Somalia, officially integrated into Al Qaeda in 2012. But a small number of its members – about 200 – have defected to ISIS.

That group, based in semi-autonomous Puntland, is led by Abdulqadir Mumin, who in August 2016 was placed by the US State Department on a list of international terrorists.

ISIS in Somalia has been the target of previous air strikes.

Africa Command says its April 14 strike in Somalia killed the group’s second-in-command there, Abdulhakim Dhuqub, who was in charge of the group's attack planning and daily operations.

As of late 2018, Africom put the number of ISIS fighters in Somalia at between 75 and 250 – a small number compared to the estimated 3,000 to 7,000 Al Shebab members.

The US Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented 32 American air strikes reported by the media and military statements in Somalia in 2019. Official figures report 110 air strikes against militants in the past two years.

This month, the US admitted to civilian casualties for the first time, saying that a woman and a child had been killed in a strike against Al Shabab targets last April. Making the admission, Gen Thomas Waldhauser, head of Africom, said that a "breakdown in reporting" had led commanders to make erroneous statements on civilian deaths. Rights groups have said more civilians have been killed but the US denies the claims.

The US says about 800 have been killed in American strikes since the programme began in 2011. It says all but the two civilians it later admitted to have killed were militants.