Dozens of 'IS miltants' killed in US Somalia airstrikes
The US launched air strikes on Islamic State group fighters based in Somalia for the first time on Friday, Washington officials have said.
Six missiles hit an IS base in Buqa village, northeastern Somalia and killed "several terrorists," the US military's Africa Command said in a statement.
"Local residents and pastoralists were shocked and fled from the area," Jama Mohamed Qurshe, chairman of the town of Qandala in the semiautonomous region of Puntland told the Voice of America.
AFRICOM spokesman Lieutenant Commander Anthony Falvo said no civilians were in the vicinity of the strikes.
"They struck their intended targets," he told AFP, noting these were the first anti-IS airstrikes in Somalia.
The first strike occurred around midnight Somalia time (3am GMT) with the second strike coming at about 11am (2pm GMT).
The US has repeatedly hit Somali militants from the al-Qaeda aligned al-Shabaab group in recent months, but Friday's development marks a significant step in the ever-evolving war against IS.
"US forces will continue to use all authorised and appropriate measures to protect Americans and to disable terrorist threats," AFRICOM said.
IS claimed its first suicide attack in Somalia in May, killing at least five people as it stepped up activities in a region dominated by al-Shabaab.
The militants are led by former al-Shabaab cleric Abdiqadir Mumin, who switched allegiance from al-Qaeda to IS in October 2015 and was named a "global terrorist" by the US State Department in August.
Mumin was born in Puntland and lived in Sweden before moving to the UK in the 2000s, where he was granted British citizenship.
The US has stepped up military involvement in the long-fractured Horn of Africa nation since President Donald Trump approved expanded operations against the group early this year.
It has carried out at least 19 drone strikes in Somalia since January, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, though Friday’s air raids were the first to target IS.
In response to questions about the massive October truck bombing in Somalia, a Pentagon spokesman said the US has about 400 troops in Somalia and "we're not going to speculate" about sending more.
In April, the US announced it was sending dozens of regular troops to Somalia in the largest such deployment to the country in roughly two decades.
The US said it was for logistics training of Somalia's army and that about 40 troops were taking part.
Weeks later, a service member was killed during an operation against al-Shabab. He was the first American to die in combat in Somalia since 1993.
Agencies contributed to this report.