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Pentagon: Airstrikes kill 150 al-Shabab 'graduates' prepping for Somali attack on U.S. troops

By Doug G. Ware   |   March 7, 2016 at 3:26 PM

RASA, Somalia, March 7 (UPI) -- At least 150 militant fighters in Somalia were killed over the weekend by U.S. airstrikes, officials say, as they were preparing an attack on American and allied forces in East Africa.

The Saturday strikes centered on an al-Shabab training camp in Rasa, about 120 miles north of the capital Mogadishu, Pentagon officials said.

The airstrikes were carried out with both manned fighter jets and drones, defense officials said.

"The fighters who were scheduled to depart the camp posed an imminent threat to U.S. and African Union Mission in Somalia forces in Somalia," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement Monday.

The fighters with al-Shabab, a Somali jihadist group aligned with al-Qaida, were finalizing training for "a large-scale attack" against American special operations troops and African Union soldiers, Pentagon officials said. The militants were going through a mock graduation ceremony at the time of the airstrikes.

"They were standing outdoors in formation," one official said.

It wasn't made clear exactly how U.S. defense officials knew an attack against American and African forces was coming, but the group and the training camp has been under heavy Pentagon surveillance in recent weeks.

"The removal of these fighters degrades al-Shabab's ability to meet the group's objectives in Somalia, including recruiting new members, establishing bases and planning attacks on U.S. and AMISOM forces," Cook added.

Defense officials said al-Shabab is attempting to convalesce after the group's leadership was effectively decapitated by American forces two years ago, following its attack on Kenya's Westgate Mall in 2013.

Al-Shabab was responsible for a beachfront attack in Mogadishu in January and another assault that killed more than 20 people last month.

The group also was responsible for a failed bombing plot against a Somali jetliner last month.

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