Dan Joseph, Voice of America
The Pentagon says a U.S. airstrike in central Somalia has killed more than 150 Al-Shabab militants who were preparing for a large-scale attack.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters Monday that the weekend attack targeted an Al-Shabab training camp about 195 kilometers north of the capital, Mogadishu. He said both manned and unmanned aircraft were used in the strike.
Davis said the U.S. had learned the fighters were set to depart the camp, and "posed an imminent threat" to U.S. and African Union forces in Somalia.
"Initial assessments are that more than 150 terrorist fighters were eliminated" in the attack, he said.
The Somali army commander in the region, Colonel Mohamed Omar, gave a death toll of 69 militants killed and 42 wounded, citing reports by local residents. Omar added he expects the casualty total to rise.
Witnesses tell VOA's Somali Service that the airstrike hit Al-Shabab's Raso training camp between the villages of Dharyiow and El-Dibi in the central Hiran region. The witnesses say the aircraft made two passes over the camp, firing three missiles each time.
According to local villagers, Al-Shabab commanders were at the camp to oversee the graduation of hundreds of trainees when the airstrikes occurred. There was no immediate word on whether any top Al-Shabab leaders were among those killed.
Pentagon spokesman Davis said the U.S. had watched the camp for several weeks before the attack.
Somali military officials believe the recruits were being prepared for attacks in Hiran and in Somalia's Middle Shabelle region.
The U.S. has a small number of advisers in Somalia assisting the African Union force AMISOM, which is fighting Al-Shabab. The Islamist militant group has been fighting to overthrow the Somali government since 2007.
The U.S. has launched numerous airstrikes against the group, including one that killed the group's longtime leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, in September 2014.