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U.S. airstrike kills deputy leader of IS Somalia branch

By Sommer Brokaw
U.S. airstrike kills deputy leader of IS Somalia branch
Destroyed buildings are seen during fighting March 1 between Somali soldiers and al-Shabab fighters in Mogadishu, Somalia. File Photo by Said Yusuf Warsame/EPA-EFE

April 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. military has killed the deputy leader of the Islamic State's Somalia branch in an airstrike, officials said.

The U.S. airstrike targeted a vehicle near the Xiriiro, Bair Region Sunday, killing Abdulhakim Dhuqub, the affiliate's "second in command," U.S. Africa Command said Monday.

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Officials said Dhuqub "was responsible for the daily operations of the extremist group, attack planning, and resource procurement."

U.S. Africa Command, of AFRICOM, killed only Dhuqub and "no civilians were injured or killed."

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Earlier this month, AFRICOM revealed it had found credible evidence that two civilians, an unnamed woman and child, were killed in a similar airstrike a year ago.

The ISIS' Somalia branch commands less than 150 fighters, U.S. defense officials said, compared to al Qaeda-affiliated Al Shabaab militant group that commands over 5,000 fighters.

The U.S. military has been conducting precision airstrikes to support the Somalian government and security forces in fending off the country's extremist groups.

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"We continue to work with our Somali partners to keep pressure on the al-Shabab and ISIS-Somalia terror networks," Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson, the U.S. Africa Command director of operations, said in a statement.

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Air Force Col. Chris Karns added that the airstrikes help create "organizational confusion."

"By consistently placing pressure on the terror networks, it keeps them off balance and reflects the federal government of Somalia's commitment to enhancing stability and security for the Somali people," he told the Air Force Times. "Various levels of leadership within the terror networks are effectively being targeted and removed from doing further harm to innocent Somalis."

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U.S. officials told CNN Somalia is making progress in fighting against the Islamic State with economic and security sector reforms made by Somalia's Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre.

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