A U.S. Navy SEAL was killed Thursday fighting terror group Al Shabab — Al Qaeda’s third-largest affiliate — in Somalia, U.S. officials told Fox News.
It appeared to be the first combat death of a U.S. service member in Somalia since 1993, U.S. Africa Command spokesman Patrick Barnes said.
Two other SEALs and an interpreter were wounded in the gunfight in Somalia, Fox News has learned; however, the Pentagon would not disclose the extent of the injuries due to privacy concerns.
“U.S. forces were conducting an advise and assist mission alongside members of the Somali National Army” near Bari, about 40 miles west of Mogadishu, according to a statement from U.S. Africa Command. The mission involved the use of U.S. helicopters and a Navy SEAL assault force partnered with Somalis.
“This was their mission,” said Pentagon spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis, referring to the Somali troops.
The SEALs were attacked “early” in the mission, not long after landing, and the Pentagon was still assessing if the mission — targeting a “group of people” associated with attacks on Somalia’s capital — was a success. Despite a recent focus on the country by the Trump administration, the authority for the mission was given under orders issued by the Obama administration.
“What occurred last night…was not anything new,” Davis said.
A Somali intelligence official confirmed the U.S. military operation to The Associated Press, saying extremist fighters mounted a stiff resistance against the soldiers.
Al Shabab “presents a threat to Americans and American interests,” the U.S. Africa Command statement said.
Somalia’s new Somali-American president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, last month declared a new offensive against Al Shabab, which is based in Somalia but has claimed responsibility for major attacks elsewhere in East Africa.
In late March, the White House approved a Pentagon request to conduct offensive operations against Al Shabab in Somalia. This meant drone strikes and raids were given the green light to happen outside of self-defense, which was the previous policy under the Obama administration.
The Department of Homeland Security in March banned electronics larger than mobile phones on flights from some Muslim nations to the U.S. a year after Al Shabab attempted to bring down an airliner in Somalia using a bomb hidden inside a laptop.
The extremist group, which was chased out of Mogadishu years ago, but continues to carry out deadly attacks there, has vowed to step up the violence in response to the moves by Trump and Mohamed.
Pressure is growing on Somalia’s military to assume full security for the country as the 22,000-strong African Union multinational force that has been supporting the fragile central government plans to leave by the end of 2020.
Fighters linked to ISIS are a relatively new and growing challenge in the north of the country, which has seen a quarter century of chaos since dictator Siad Barre fell in 1991.
The United States pulled out of Somalia after 1993, when two helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu and bodies of Americans were dragged through the streets.
However, there have been roughly 50 U.S. special operations troops based in the country since 2013.