WASHINGTON / PENTAGON / LONDON - U.S. airstrikes Friday targeted Islamic State fighters in northern Somalia, defense officials told VOA.
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) issued a statement later in the day confirming that the military had killed "several terrorists" in two airstrikes against the terror group.
"We are currently assessing the results," AFRICOM said.
The chairman of the town of Qandala, Jama Mohamed Qurshe, told VOA Somali that several missiles had hit a base for IS militants at Buqa village, 60 kilometers south of his town in the semiautonomous region of Puntland.
“According to the information we are getting from the ground, six missiles hit the militants’ base in the mountainous area. Local residents and pastoralists were shocked and fled from the area," Qurshe said.
He said that prior to the strike, residents reporting hearing airplane sounds.
Details of the strike were still not clear — locals said the remote area was accessible only to the militants — but local officials and residents suspected the airstrike targeted the group’s senior leaders and perhaps even its top leader.
The pro-Islamic State faction in northeastern Somalia is led by Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, a former al-Shabab cleric who pledged his allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2015. In 2016, the U.S. State Department designated Mumin as a global terrorist.
Since the emergence of the IS faction in October 2015, the militants have claimed responsibility for at least four deadly attacks in Puntland.
In late October 2016, the militants briefly seized Qandala before they were driven out by Puntland's government.
No cutoff in funding
Meanwhile, the U.S. government denied reports that it was planning to cut funding for the Somali government.
Somali media reports said the U.S. might reduce funding because unnamed Somali officials helped facilitate the October 14 truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 350 people.
There were also reports that linked the alleged cut to an internal State Department finding that the department's Africa Bureau was failing to ensure that U.S. funding was not diverted to al-Shabab militants.
In an email, a State Department official told VOA that "reports of funding being suspended to the Somali army due to alleged facilitation of the bombings by Somali officials are incorrect. The United States continues to provide extensive support to Somali security forces in their efforts to combat al-Shabab.”
On Wednesday, the Daily Nation, a leading newspaper in Kenya, quoted a report from the State Department's Office of Inspector General. The report said the Africa Bureau had not established policies and procedures for identifying and mitigating terrorist financing risks for its programs in countries where militant organizations like al-Shabab and Boko Haram operate.
In his email, the State Department official said, “The United States prioritizes transparency and accountability in its partnership with Somalia, echoing one of the top priorities articulated by President [Mohamed Abdullahi] Farmaajo [Mohamed] upon his taking office earlier this year.
"We have communicated conditions for U.S. security assistance to the federal government of Somalia, which includes enhanced measures to ensure proper oversight of our support."
Also Friday, Somali leaders and the governors of Somali states met for a fourth straight day in Mogadishu, in an effort to agree on implementation of a joint security plan.
The government is said to be preparing for a major offensive against al-Shabab.