The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) denied that three U.S. soldiers were killed by an al-Shabaab mortar attack. AFRICOM accuses the extremist group of fabricating casualties of U.S. service members at the forward operating base (FOB) of Baledogle–also referred to as “B-dog”–on February 15, 2019.

AFRICOM spokesman Christopher P. Karns told Xinhua News Agency, “No U.S. casualties were reported after an airfield at Baledogle, Somalia, received indirect fire February 15,” he added, “The terrorist group al-Shabaab falsely claimed it killed three U.S. soldiers in the attack.” According to Karns, there’s a detectable rise of casualty numbers extremist groups falsely claim in the press after an attack.

Within al-Shabaab, a high number of actual casualties occurred in recent months after the Trump administration granted AFRICOM more room to target the extremist group in Somalia. Karns said: “In 2019, persistent pressure has been placed on al-Shabaab by the federal government of Somalia, its forces, and partners in an effort to degrade its network.”

AFRICOM denies US casualties in latest al-Shabaab attack
Baledogle base in Wanlaweyn, Somalia, during Operation Restoring Hope, 1993. (Source: Sgt. D. W. Mobley)

Al-Shabaab claimed on February 15th that it conducted a mortar attack—a strategy it deploys on secure installations. The attack supposedly killed three American soldiers and five Somali members of the Danab (Lightning) Advanced Infantry Battalion. Baledogle is also the training facility for the Danab members by American trainers. The base is located 95km northwest from Mogadishu and was used by the Somali Air Force before the civil war started in 1989.

A Somali senior commander of Danab, speaking directly to NEWSREP, also denied al-Shabaab’s claims: “The members of AS are feeling the pressure of our operations and it is only a matter of time before we rid them of the Somali Countryside.” The commander, who asked not to be named, added, “We need to have a combined effort of all Somali security forces and allies to make a big push.”

AFRICOM denies US casualties in latest al-Shabaab attack
Danab forces. (Source: Somalia Defense Ministry)

The commander’s statement is interesting considering there are two months left before the rainy season starts, which makes any large rural operations against the jihadist group difficult. Heavy vehicles won’t be able to move on poor road conditions.

On the other hand, in the capital, the group is still assassinating Somali officials with impunity. So the Somalian Defense Ministry needs to focus on Mogadishu and its security, plagued by vehicle-borne (SVBIED) bombings in recent times.

So long as al-Shabaab holds competitive control by offering services such as mediation and conflict resolution just 20km outside Mogadishu, it will be incredibly difficult to rebuild Somalia’s beleaguered institutions and fight insurgency at the same time.