FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2019 file photo released by the U.S. Air Force, airmen from the 475th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron…
FILE - Airmen from the 475th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron conduct a flag-raising ceremony at Camp Simba, Manda Bay, Kenya, Aug. 26, 2019. The al-Shabab extremist group said, Jan. 5, 2020, it attacked the Camp Simba military base in coastal Kenya.

WASHINGTON - The U.S. military has confirmed to VOA that one of al-Shabab’s top leaders was likely killed in a drone strike last month.

“It is believed that indeed Bashir Mohamed Mahamoud, aka Bashir Qoorgaab, was killed” in a U.S. air strike Feb. 22, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman Col. Chris Karns told VOA. The strike occurred in the town of Saakow in Middle Jubba region.

Qoorgaab was one of the most battle-hardened al-Shabab commanders of the group’s Jabhat (military). Most recently he commanded three al-Shabab Jabhat units, two of which are operating in Kenya, including the notorious Jaysh Ayman unit in the area of Manda Bay.

“This is progress,” Karns told VOA. “Removal of threats, like this terrorist, make Africans and Americans a bit safer and sends a strong message to a common enemy whose ambition is to export violence and do serious harm to African partners, Americans, and international partners.”

Manda Bay, Kenya

AFRICOM had reported Feb. 25 that a senior al-Shabab leader who was behind the Jan. 5 attack at Manda Bay was killed in the Saakow strike. The news release said the leader’s wife, who was also a member of the terror group, was also killed.

A relative of the wife told VOA about her death along with her husband.

In the Jan. 5 attack, al-Shabab militants penetrated a Kenyan military base used by U.S. forces at Manda Bay, killing an American soldier and two American contractors. The militants also destroyed six aircraft.

Jaysh Ayman executed the attack, although the attackers may have come from one of the commando units of al-Shabab, according to a Somali intelligence official.

FILE - An image distributed by al-Shabaab after the attack on a military base in Kenya shows Somalia's al-Shabaab militant group's flag, said to be at the Manda Bay Airfield in Manda, Lamu, Kenya, Jan. 5, 2020.

Although Qoorgaab was in charge of operations in Kenya, he was looking to replicate those attacks in other countries like Tanzania, according to Abdirahim Isse Addow, a former Islamic court official who knew Qoorgaab.

He was not the overall leader of al-Shabab, but he was undoubtedly no less important to al-Shabab fighters, Addow added.

Qoorgaab had a $5 million bounty on his head, the second highest al-Shabab bounty behind current leader Ahmed Diriye Abu Ubaidah, who has $6 million on his head.

Qoorgaab had been a senior al-Shabab member for more than a decade. Before commanding the Jabhat, he led al-Shabab’s special militia commandos known as “Jugta Ulus,” training fighters and commanding them in the field.

To date, AFRICOM has carried out 24 attacks in coordination with the government of Somalia against al-Shabab this year.