Somalia-based Islamic militant group al-Shabab confirmed Tuesday that the United States had bombed an area under its control in the East African nation but said the Pentagon had “exaggerated” the death toll. The U.S. military said it conducted airstrikes Saturday on an al-Shabab training camp some 120 miles north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, killing more than 150 fighters with the al Qaeda-aligned group.
"The U.S. bombed an area controlled by al-Shabab, but they exaggerated the figure of casualties. We never gather 100 fighters in one spot, for security reasons. We know the sky is full of planes," al-Shabab’s military spokesman, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, told Reuters on Tuesday, without giving a casualty figure or further details about the raid.
The U.S. military had been monitoring the “Raso” training camp for several weeks before using both manned aircraft and unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drones to target the facility Saturday. U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told Reuters the bombing was “defensive” in nature because “there was intelligence … these fighters would soon be embarking upon missions that would directly impact the U.S. and our partners.” Pentagon spokesman Cpt. Jeff Davis said the U.S. believed the threat was “imminent.”
Al-Shabab , whose name means “the youth,” emerged in 2006 from the now-defunct Islamic Courts Union, which once commanded Mogadishu. The Sunni extremist group launched its own insurgency on major Somali cities in 2009, taking control of Mogadishu and southern Somalia until it was pushed out by domestic and international forces around 2012. Many areas of south-central Somalia are still under al-Shabab’s control, and the militants have increased efforts in recent months to recapture lost territories while seeking to topple Somalia’s Western-backed government.
Al-Shabab has also launched deadly attacks in neighboring Kenya, including an April 2015 raid on Garissa University, which left 148 people dead. The fighters also attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in September 2013, killing 29 people. Overall, al-Shabab has reportedly killed more than 400 people in Kenya in the past two years. The militants have overwhelmingly targeted civilians, government officials and non-Muslims.