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PENTAGON —The U.S. military has carried out three airstrikes against al-Shabab militants in Somalia in less than a week, continuing a rapid pace that could triple last year's record-setting strike numbers.
According to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the latest strike killed three militants near Malayle in the Lower Juba region on Wednesday.
The "collective self-defense airstrike" targeted militants who were shooting at Somali National Security Forces on patrol, AFRICOM said. U.S. service members were not on the ground.
The strike came a day after an airstrike killed two al-Shabab militants in the vicinity of Huley in the Lower Shabelle region.
And on Monday, another U.S. military strike in Lower Shabelle region — this one near Dara Salaam — killed eight militants who had attacked Somali National Army soldiers and U.S. troops who were advising their Somali partners.
No U.S. service members were harmed in the attack, AFRICOM spokesman Air Force Col. Chris Karns told VOA.
AFRICOM has carried out 28 airstrikes against al-Shabab in the first 11 weeks of 2019. Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the U.S. military is now on pace to nearly triple last year's record number of airstrikes against al-Shabab.
Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks told VOA in a recent interview that al-Shabab was "losing troops in the field at what I would suspect is an alarming rate."
He said the ramp-up of strikes was merely a "component" of the broader international fight against terrorism in Somalia.
Somali forces and their international partners have gained ground "particularly out of Kismayo in the south," which just a few years ago was considered the epicenter of the al-Shabab terror group, according to the U.S. general.
"We've cleared about 45 kilometers up the Lower Juba River Valley, established combat outposts that have withheld multiple attacks, and as we — again, 'we' as the Somalis and our AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] partners — make contact with al-Shabab, the enemy is presenting itself in such a way that it can be struck as part of this broader counterinsurgency effort," Hicks told VOA.
The U.S. military carried out 47 airstrikes in Somalia last year and 35 in 2017, killing hundreds of militants. Most targeted al-Shabaab, while some targeted Islamic State militants in the African country.
The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militant group continues to control large areas in southern and central Somalia. It is also responsible for deadly bombings in the capital, Mogadishu.
Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.