US special forces have killed a senior Islamic State group figure and 10 other terrorist operatives in remote northern Somalia, senior Biden administration officials say.
The operation targeted Bilal al-Sudani, a key financial facilitator for the global terrorist organisation, in a mountainous cave complex.
“This action leaves the United States and its partners safer and more secure, and it reflects our steadfast commitment to protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism at home and abroad,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
President Joe Biden was briefed last week about the proposed mission, which came together after months of planning.
He gave final approval to carry out the operation this week, according to two officials who briefed reporters on the operation on the condition of anonymity.
On the radar for US intelligence officials for years, al-Sudani played a key role in helping to fund IS operations in Africa as well as the ISIS-K terrorist branch operating in Afghanistan, the officials said.
He had originally been designated the Treasury Department in 2012 for his role with al-Shabab, another terrorist organisation, operating in Somalia.
“Given the remote location of the operation, the assessment is that no civilians were injured or killed,” US Africa Command said.
“Protecting civilians remains a vital part of the command’s operations to promote greater security for all Africans.”
One American involved in the operation was bitten by a military dog, but was not seriously injured, according to an administration official.
Capture not ‘feasible’
US officials provided scant details about how the operation was carried out or the circumstances surrounding al-Sudani’s killing.
One official said that US forces had intended to capture al-Sudani, but that did not prove to be “feasible” as the operation unfolded.
The mission comes days after Africa Command said it had conducted a collective self-defence strike near Galcad, north-east of capital Mogadishu.
In that incident, Somalia National Army forces engaged in heavy fighting following an extended and intense attack by more than 100 al-Shabab fighters.
The US estimated approximately 30 al-Shabab fighters were killed.
The offensive by Somalian forces against al-Shabab has been described as the most significant in more than a decade.