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62 killed as U.S. conducts preemptive airstrikes against Somalia extremists

Six U.S. airstrikes that killed more than 60 people in a coastal Somali town were preemptive strikes to prevent a major extremist attack, according to a Somali intelligence officer.

The U.S. military said Monday that it carried out four strikes on Saturday in which 34 people were killed and two more on Sunday that killed 28. The air attacks targeted Gandarshe, south of the capital, Mogadishu, it said.

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No civilians were injured or killed in the attacks, it said.

The strikes were carried out in close coordination with Somalia's government and were “conducted to prevent [the] Shabab from using remote areas as a safe haven to plot, direct, inspire, and recruit for future attacks," the U.S. military statement said.

The U.S. airstrikes were aimed at Shabab fighters who were preparing a major attack on a Somali government military base in the Lower Shabelle region, said a Somali intelligence official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

"The strike has neutralized an imminent attack," he said. The airstrikes hit both a military camp and battle vehicles in Gandarshe, the official said.

The Shabab extremist group has long used historic Gandarshe town, roughly 30 miles southwest of Mogadishu, as a launching pad for attacks, including car bombs that hit the capital.

Shabab fighters use parts of southern and central Somalia to plot and direct extremist attacks, steal humanitarian aid, extort money from the local populace to fund operations, and shelter radicals, the U.S. military statement said.

With the weekend attacks, the U.S. military has carried out at least 46 airstrikes so far this year against the Shabab, which is allied with Al Qaeda and Africa's most active Islamic extremist group. The Shabab, which is fighting to establish its version of sharia law in Somalia, controls parts of rural southern and central Somalia and continues to stage deadly attacks in Mogadishu and other cities.

The U.S. airstrikes have picked up dramatically since President Trump took office and approved expanded military operations in the Horn of Africa nation. Airstrikes also target a small presence of fighters linked to the Islamic State group. The U.S. has about 500 military personnel in Somalia and this month opened a permanent diplomatic presence in Mogadishu.

Several years ago, the Shabab controlled large swaths of Somalia, including much of the capital city. The African Union forces succeeded in pushing the extremists from Mogadishu and most other major cities. However, the Shabab continues to be active in Somalia's rural areas and launches suicide car bomb attacks in the capital. In October last year, a massive truck bomb killed more than 500 people.

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