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JOHANNESBURG -- The U.S. military on Saturday said it had carried out its deadliest airstrike in Somalia in months, killing 52 al-Shabab extremists after a "large group" mounted an attack on Somali forces.

The U.S. Africa Command said the airstrike occurred near Jilib in the Middle Juba region. There were no reports of Americans killed or wounded.

The U.S. statement did not say whether any Somali forces were killed or wounded by the al-Qaida-linked extremists. Al-Shabab via its Shahada news agency asserted that its attack on two Somali army bases killed at least 41 soldiers. It described the location as the Bar Sanjuni area near the port city of Kismayo.

There was no immediate comment from Somalia's government.

In neighboring Ethiopia, state television cited the Defense Ministry on Saturday as saying that al-Shabab extremists had also attacked an Ethiopian peacekeeping convoy in Somalia. The statement rejected an al-Shabab claim that several Ethiopian troops were killed.

The Ethiopian National Defense Force vowed a "massive offensive" in response. Ethiopia contributes troops to a multinational African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia and has troops there independently under Ethiopian army command.

Al-Shabab controls large parts of rural southern and central Somalia and continues to carry out high-profile suicide bombings and other attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and elsewhere.

The Ethiopian statement said the ambush occurred when the convoy was traveling from Burhakaba to Baidoa in Somalia's southwest.

A separate statement by the African Union force said the ambush by al-Shabab occurred on Friday and that troops returned fire, killing four extremists and wounding several others. Three soldiers with the African Union force were wounded, the statement said.

Al-Shabab -- which formed more than a decade ago in response to the presence of Ethiopian forces inside Somalia, among other reasons -- has never managed to orchestrate a major attack inside the Ethiopian heartland. However, it has carried out major attacks in neighboring Kenya in retaliation for its sending troops to Somalia to fight al-Shabab.

The ambush was reported as al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on a luxury hotel complex in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, on Tuesday.

The United States has dramatically stepped up airstrikes against al-Shabab in Somalia since President Donald Trump took office, carrying out at least 47 such strikes last year. Some have targeted top al-Shabab leaders or key financial officials; the extremist group funds its attacks with an extensive network of "taxation" and extortion.

In October, the U.S. said an airstrike killed about 60 fighters near the al-Shabab-controlled community of Harardere in Mudug province in the central part of the country.

The airstrikes hamper the extremist group but have not "seriously degraded al-Shabab's capability to mount strikes either inside or outside Somalia," Matt Bryden of Sahan Research, an expert on the extremists, told The Associated Press after the Nairobi hotel attack.

Airstrikes alone cannot defeat the extremists, Bryden said, arguing that the airstrikes must be combined with more ground-based attacks as well as a nonmilitary campaign to win over residents of extremist-held areas.

The U.S. on Saturday said it is committed to "preventing al-Shabab from taking advantage of safe havens from which they can build capacity and attack the people of Somalia."

Information for this article was contributed by Ben Curtis of The Associated Press.

A Section on 01/20/2019

Print Headline: U.S. says air raid killed 52 Somali militants


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