April 27, 2019 / 11:18 AM / 5 months ago

U.S. air strike kills three ISIS fighters in Somali region

BOSASO (Reuters) - A U.S. air strike killed three fighters from the Islamic State in the Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region on Friday, a U.S. military official said, two weeks after the group’s deputy leader was killed in a strike.

A witness said missiles struck two wells on the outskirts of Timirshe village, some 60km southeast of Puntland’s commercial capital Bosaso.

The U.S. military has sharply stepped up its campaign of air strikes in Somalia since President Donald Trump took office, saying it has killed more than 800 militants in two years.

“This air strike eliminated ISIS-Somalia members staged in a remote location in northern Somalia,” Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) director of operations, said in an emailed statement on Saturday.

AFRICOM also claimed responsibility for the killing of IS deputy Abdulhakim Dhuqub on April 14.

Somalia has been riven by civil war and Islamist militancy since 1991 when clan warlords overthrew a dictator before turning on each other.

“We heard the crash of four missiles on the outskirts of Timirshe village,” resident Ahmed Nur told Reuters by telephone.

He said the wells were used by militants from both IS and their more powerful Islamist rivals al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate who have been fighting Somalia’s U.N.-backed government for years.

Al Shabaab was pushed out of the capital Mogadishu in 2011, but retains a strong presence in parts of southern and central Somalia.

It has frequently clashed with the much smaller IS force in the north who are thought to number fewer than 200 fighters.

A Puntland intelligence official said the air strike targeted both groups.

“There are casualties and we are investigating. In recent battles al Shabaab captured three bases from IS,” he told Reuters by telephone, requesting anonymity.

Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Clelia Oziel

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