WASHINGTON – U.S. airstrikes in Somalia this week killed more than 15 al-Shabab terrorists who were battling African Union and Somali forces, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman Major Karl Wiest told VOA on Friday.

The militants posed an “imminent threat” to international forces who, according to a U.S. defense official, have now secured the town of Janaale in the country’s Lower Shabelle region and are building a forward operating base there.

“Not to spike the football, but that’s exactly the type of incremental progress we’re seeing” from partner forces, said the defense official.

AFRICOM said in a press release that it had conducted five strikes Monday and Tuesday against al-Shabab near Janaale, in coordination with the Somali government.

The U.S. military’s casualty assessment, which is normally included in the press release, has been slowed because of “dense vegetation in the area,” a defense official told VOA.

U.S. forces were nearby advising Somali partners at the time of the strikes. None were wounded in counter-al-Shabab operations there, officials said.

Al-Shabab ‘propaganda’ dismissed

Al-Shabab’s Shadada News Agency claimed dozens of AMISOM and Somali forces were killed battling the terror group earlier this week in the Lower Shabelle, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

Those claims are “another example of al-Shabab trying to further their deceptive narrative and spread lies and propaganda in support of their violent cause,” AFRICOM spokeswoman Lieutenant Christina Gibson told VOA on Thursday.

The pace of U.S. military strikes against al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabab in Somalia this year has nearly been on par with the number of strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Last week, when asked by VOA whether these increased strikes reflected an increased threat from al-Shabab, AFRICOM commander General Stephen Townsend said that “the threat has been higher in the last few months than it was eight months ago,” when he took over the command.

The U.S. has carried out 31 strikes against al-Shabab to date in 2020. Data released to VOA by a U.S. defense official show the U.S. carried out 29 airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria from January 1 to March 1, the latest date for which strike data were available.

Defeat of caliphate

Strikes in Iraq and Syria have significantly tapered off since the territorial defeat of the so-called Islamic State caliphate last March.

AFRICOM conducted a record 63 strikes in Somalia last year. Most were against al-Shabab, which has an estimated 6,000 militants in Somalia, with a handful of strikes against Islamic State.

There were 47 U.S. military strikes in Somalia in 2018