US drone strike kills more than 150 Al Shabab fighters

Strike on training camp pre-empted large-scale attack on US and African Union forces, Pentagon says.

Washington // A US drone strike killed more than 150 Al Shabab fighters in a training camp in Somalia over the weekend, the Pentagon said on Monday.

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said the strike was carried out on a camp called Raso, about 195 kilometres north of Mogadishu.

“The fighters were there training and were training for a large-scale attack,” he said.

“Initial assessments are that more than 150 terrorist fighters were eliminated.”

The fighters posed an “imminent threat” to US and African Union forces, Capt Davis said.

He said the group, which is affiliated to Al Qaeda, had neared the completion of specialist training to conduct “offensive operations”, but did not give any details about the assault the fighters were allegedly planning.

“Their removal will degrade Al Shabab’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Somalia, which includes recruiting new members, establishing bases and planning attacks on US and Amisom [African Union Mission to Somalia] forces there,” he said.

The training camp had been under surveillance for some time ahead of the drone strike.

“There was a sense that the operational phase was about to happen,” Capt Davis said.

Al Shabab has claimed responsiblity for a string of recent attacks including a twin bombing at a busy restaurant in the Somali city of Baidoa last month that killed 30 people, and a raid on an Amisom camp in January that killed as many as 200 Kenyan soldiers, according to the Somali president.

Meanwhile, a huge cache of weapons was seized from a fishing boat bound for Somalia by an Australian navy ship off the the coast of Oman.

Nearly 2,000 AK-47 rifles, 100 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 49 PKM machine guns, 39 PKM spare barrels and 20 mortar tubes were found hidden under fishing nets, the Australian navy said on Monday.

It said the weapons were seized under a decades-long UN arms embargo in place against Somalia, which has been mired in conflict since civil war broke out in 1991.

The Security Council eased some of the embargo restrictions in 2013, allowing the western-backed government in Mogadishu to buy light weapons to bolster its armed forces in the battle against Al Shabab insurgents.

The Australian navy, which patrols waters around the Indian Ocean as part of an international maritime force, did not indicate who the weapons were intended for.

As well as Al Shabaab, some regional states in Somalia operate and equip their own militias without the approval of the central government.

* Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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