A key leader in the Al-Shabab armed group was killed in a U.S. airstrike this week, the Pentagon confirmed on Friday, calling it a significant loss for the Al-Qaeda-affiliated organization.
Ahmed Godane was a co-founder and leader of the group, which has carried out many bombings and suicide attacks in Somalia and elsewhere. Their assaults include the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, that killed at least 39 people in September 2013.
Godane’s death has left a large gap in Al-Shabab's leadership and could pose the biggest challenge to its unity since it emerged as a fighting force eight years ago.
The Pentagon's press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, confirmed Godane’s death Friday in a brief written statement. President Barack Obama, speaking at the conclusion of a NATO summit in Newport, Wales, said the successful U.S. strike was an example of his administration's determination to hit back at terrorists.
The U.S. State Department declared Al-Shabab a foreign terrorist organization in 2008. American military forces have targeted the group many times.
Somalia's government, with support from African peacekeepers and Western intelligence, has battled to curb Al-Shabab's influence and to drive the group from areas it has continued to control since it was expelled from Mogadishu in 2011.
The group, whose name means “The Young Men” in Arabic, arose after U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces invaded and occupied parts of Somalia in 2006, unseating the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) from the capital, where it had managed to supersede the authority of reigning warlords in the war-ravaged city. Ethiopia, which is mostly Christian, and Somalia, an almost entirely Muslim country, have been locked in territorial disputes for decades over their shared border.
Al-Shabab emerged from the remnants of the ICU’s military wing in the chaos that followed its ouster.
Climbing out of the marshes of southern Somalia, bent on battling Western-backed politicians and forces, as well as rival armed groups, Al-Shabab lacked the authority or organization of the ICU.