U.S. special operations forces have killed a senior Islamic State group official and 10 other terrorist operatives in remote northern Somalia, the Biden administration announced Thursday.
The operation carried out on Wednesday targeted Bilal al-Sudani, a key financial facilitator for the global terrorist organization, in a mountainous cave complex.
“This action leaves the United States and its partners safer and more secure, and it reflects our steadfast commitment to protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism at home and abroad,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
President Joe Biden was briefed last week about the proposed mission, which came together after months of planning. He gave final approval to carry out the operation this week following the recommendation of Austin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley, according to two senior Biden administration officials who briefed reporters on the operation on the condition of anonymity.
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Al-Sudani, who has been on the radar for U.S. intelligence officials for years, played a key role in helping to fund IS operations in Africa as well as the ISIS-K terrorist branch operating in Afghanistan, Austin said.
The U.S. Treasury Department alleged last year that al-Sudani had worked closely with another IS operative, Abdella Hussein Abadigga, who had recruited young men in South Africa and sent them to a weapons training camp.
Abadigga, who controlled two mosques in South Africa, used his position to extort money from members of the mosques. Al-Sudani considered Abadigga a trusted supporter who could help the IS supporters in South Africa become better organized and recruit new members, according to Treasury..
Al-Sudani had originally been designated the Treasury Department in 2012 for his role with al-Shabab, another terrorist organization operating in Somalia. He helped foreign fighters travel to an al-Shabab training camp and facilitated financing for violent extremists in Somalia, according to a senior administration official.
No civilians were injured or killed in the operation, Pentagon officials said. One American involved in the operation was bitten by a military dog, but was not seriously injured, according to an administration official.
U.S. officials provided scant details about how the operation was carried out or the circumstances surrounding al-Sudani's killing. One official said that U.S. forces had intended to capture al-Sudani but that did not prove to be “feasible” as the operation was carried out.
The operation comes days after Africa Command said it had conducted a collective self-defense strike northeast of Mogadishu, the capital, near Galcad. In that incident, Somalia National Army forces were engaged in heavy fighting following an extended and intense attack by more than 100 al-Shabab fighters.
The U.S. estimated approximately 30 al-Shabab fighters were killed in that operation.
The offensive by Somalian forces against al-Shabab has been described as the most significant in more than a decade.
Al-Shabab holds a much larger footprint in Somalia than does IS.