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US conducts 1st drone strike under Biden 'against al-Shabab' in Somalia

Al-Shabab militants near Mogadishu, Somalia, in 2012.

The Pentagon says it has conducted an airstrike against the al-Shabab militant group in Somalia, despite limits put in place by the US President Joe Biden administration on attacks outside active war zones.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cindi King said in a statement on Tuesday that the US military command for Africa (AFRICOM) had conducted a drone strike in coordination with the Somali government "in the vicinity of Galkayo, Somalia today against al-Shabab."

The strike targeted the militants northeast of the capital, Mogadishu, King told AFP.

"A battle-damage assessment is still pending due to the ongoing engagement between al-Shabab and Somali forces; however, the command's initial assessment is that no civilians were injured or killed as a result of this strike," she added.

The drone attack was the first conducted in Somalia since Biden took office in January.

The administration of former president Donald Trump had set broad rules for strikes in particular countries, including Somalia and Libya. He delegated authority to commanders in the field about when to carry them out.

But Biden reversed the policy and put new limits on strikes outside active war zones. Proposals for strikes are now generally routed through the White House.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in March that any planned strikes against militant groups outside Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq were now submitted to the White House before being carried out.

The latest operation in Somalia was, however, conducted without seeking any approval from the White House, according to King. She said it was because the Africa command had the authority to conduct strikes in support of allied forces under what the military calls collective self-defense.

Human rights groups have long called for an end to the US drone strikes that Washington claims are conducted against terrorists. Last month, more than 100 organizations in the US and around the world urged Biden to put an end to "the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield."

Separately, the Somali military announced on Monday that its forces had killed as many as 50 members of the terror group in separate operations -- including 35 in the central state of Galmudug and 15 others in the southern province of Lower Juba region. 

The al-Qaeda-affiliated outfit has been fighting against the government for more than a decade now, indiscriminately targeting both civilians and military personnel in bloody attacks.

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