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U.S. strikes militants in Somalia

Several extremist fighters reported killed in drone raids

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- U.S. forces say they have carried out three drone strikes within 24 hours in Somalia, stepping up their campaign against the Islamic extremist rebels of al-Shabab and the Islamic State group.

The strikes by unmanned drones killed several extremist fighters, a spokesman for the U.S. military command in Africa said Sunday. With these three attacks, the U.S. has now carried out 26 attacks in Somalia against extremist targets in 2017, she said.

The latest U.S. strikes were carried out in coordination with Somalia's government, she said.

The first strike happened Saturday about 4:30 p.m. local Somalia time and it killed one fighter for the extremist group al-Shabab, said a U.S. Africa command statement. The strike occurred near Gaduud, about 250 miles southwest of the capital, Mogadishu, the statement said.

[THE ISLAMIC STATE: Timeline of group’s rise, fall; details on campaign to fight it]

The U.S. strike came after al-Shabab attacked a convoy of U.S. and Somali forces, it said.

"We assess no civilians were anywhere near the site," the spokesman said. "We take all measures during the targeting process to painstakingly ensure that civilian casualties and collateral damages are avoided and that we comply with the principles of the Law of Armed Conflict."

The second strike occurred about 3 a.m. Sunday against al-Shabab in the Lower Shabelle region about 40 miles west of the capital Mogadishu.

Al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa, has been blamed for the truck bombing in Mogadishu last month that killed more than 350 people. It was Somalia's worst-ever extremist attack and one of the world's deadliest in years.

Al-Shabab has pledged allegiance to al-Qaida "and is dedicated to providing safe haven for terrorist attacks throughout the world," the spokesman said, adding that al-Shabab "has publicly committed to planning and conducting attacks against the U.S. and our partners in the region."

The third strike was against the Islamic State group in Somalia's northern Puntland area, she said. It happened about 9 a.m. Sunday.

This is the second U.S. strike against the Islamic State group in Somalia. The first was earlier this month. The Islamic State group has emerged in Somalia over the past two years, and many of its fighters have defected from al-Shabab.

"U.S. forces will continue to use all authorized and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats," the spokesman said. The U.S. forces are working with Somalia's security forces and the 22,000-strong African Union force of soldiers from neighboring countries and they are "targeting terrorists, their training camps and safe havens throughout Somalia, the region and around the world," she said.

President Donald Trump's administration earlier this year approved expanded military operations against extremists in this Horn of Africa nation.

Somalia's president has vowed a "state of war" against the extremists but concern is growing that when the African Union force leaves Somalia, the national army will not be able to cope.

The African Union last week announced the beginning of its withdrawal from the long-chaotic and still heavily fractured nation, saying it will cut 1,000 troops by the end of the year. The union pullout is set to be complete by the end of 2020.

A Section on 11/13/2017

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