Al-Shabab militants in Somalia killed a member of U.S. special forces Friday and wounded three other members of an American team assisting Somali soldiers, U.S. officials said.
The Navy SEAL who died in the operation against al-Shabab was the first American service member killed in combat in the war-torn country since a deadly battle in 1993 — the clash that inspired the movie Black Hawk Down.
White House officials said President Donald Trump sent his deepest condolences to the family of the victim, along with his appreciation for the efforts of all men and women in the U.S. military.
Small-arms fire killed the Navy SEAL in a small village 65 kilometers west of Mogadishu. A U.S. military official told VOA at least two other Navy SEALs and an interpreter were wounded in the attack in the village of Barire, west of Afgoye.
U.S. Africa Command, responsible for all American military operations on the continent, said the U.S. forces came under attack during an advise-and-assist mission alongside members of the Somali National Army.
“This was a Somali mission,” Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Friday. American forces were “operating in support of” the Somali units, in an attack targeting a compound associated with attacks on nearby facilities used by both U.S. and Somali forces, he added.
A senior official in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region said soldiers raided a building that houses Radio Andalus, al-Shabab’s official radio station. The attack killed eight al-Shabab fighters, the official said, adding that radio-station equipment reportedly was seized.
“We helped bring [the Somali soldiers] in with our aircraft, and we were there maintaining a distance back as they conducted the operation,” Davis said at the Pentagon. “That’s when our forces came under fire.”
‘Deepest sympathies’ from Trump
Al-Shabab said its fighters “foiled” an attack by U.S. troops and killed an unspecified number of “enemy soldiers” Friday. The group’s military spokesman, Abdulaziz Abu Musab, told Radio Andalus the militants knew about the attack in advance and were prepared for it.
At the White House, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters the president was fully briefed on the action in Somalia by his national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster.
“First and foremost [we] want to express our deepest condolences and our deepest appreciation for all of the men and women in the military and the ultimate sacrifice that they paid — particularly this soldier and all of the others,” Sanders said.
“The president has made it certainly a major priority to protect the men and women who protect us. That’s one of the reasons he wanted to put so much emphasis on rebuilding the military, and that was a priority for him in the budget. And again, our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to all of the men and women in uniform and, particularly, this family.”
Details of clash from Somali sources
Security sources and officials in the Lower Shabelle region say Friday’s attack was led by Somalia’s Danab commando team, accompanied by U.S. special forces.
The team attacked a target in Dar es Salam village, located between the small towns of Barire and Mubarak, both controlled by al-Shabab, the Somali sources said. The area is said to be mostly farmland with large banana and pawpaw crops.
One official told VOA’s Somali service that helicopters carried the commandos and special forces from Ballidogle airport, a known base for U.S. trainers working with Somali forces, to a point near Barire, and the soldiers then walked to Dar es Salam village. A Somali ground force from the town of Afgoye supported the raid, which began overnight Friday.
U.S.: Militants ‘neutralized’
Pentagon spokesman Davis said U.S. and Somali forces “quickly neutralized” enemy forces on the ground, and evacuated the wounded aboard helicopters.
VOA Somalia reported al-Shabab later sealed off an area around Dar es Salam village, where the firefight took place. The militants claimed they also deployed large numbers of reinforcements.
U.S. special forces and Somali commandos have been conducting joint operations for more than a year as part of the U.S. effort to help the Somali government combat al-Shabab. Joint operations have taken place in Lower Shabelle and Lower Juba, two regions where al-Shabab has a large presence, and especially in the strategic agricultural area west of Afgoye where Friday’s action took place.
The U.S. says military personnel advise and assist Somali security forces, but local officials say U.S. troops also provide helicopters and intelligence gathering.
Last month, dozens of American soldiers deployed to Mogadishu for a separate mission to train and equip Somali and AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) forces fighting extremism in Somalia, U.S. military officials told VOA.
Somali officials say more than 500 Somalia commandos have been trained by the U.S., and the Somali government has said it wants to increase the number of trained commandos to 4,000.
18 Americans died in ‘Black Hawk’ disaster
In the early 1990s, the United Nations attempted to provide and secure humanitarian relief in Somalia while monitoring a U.N.-brokered cease-fire in the Somali civil war. The U.S. deployed thousands of American troops to carry out the peacekeeping mission, which by late 1993 had expanded to try to restore a government in Somalia.
Two American Black Hawk helicopters were shot down in October 1993. Rescue squads sent in to try to remove soldiers from the crash sites became pinned down, and a 15-hour battle ensued that killed 18 Americans and hundreds of Somalis.
Days later, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton announced that he would remove all American combat forces from Somalia by March 1994, and the United States also withdrew from the peacekeeping missions in the East African country.