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Al-Shabab in Somalia: Air strikes kill 62 militants, US says

Written by Maritime First

…As Cease-fire in Yemen’s port goes into force after fighting***

The US military says it has killed 62 fighters from the Islamist group al-Shabab in six air strikes in Somalia.

Four air strikes on Saturday killed 32 militants and a further two on Sunday killed 28, it said in a statement.

These were the deadliest air attacks in Somalia since November 2017 when the US said it had killed 100 militants.

Somalia has seen a sharp increase in the number of air strikes and casualties since President Donald Trump took office in the US in January 2017.

A tally by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals that at least 400 people have been killed in air strikes since the beginning of 2017, far more than the previous 10 years combined.

The latest strikes bring to at least 40 the number carried out in Somalia so far this year, compared with 35 recorded in 2017.

The US has a huge military base in neighbouring Djibouti, from where it launches attacks on the militants.

Mr Trump gave the US military greater authority in March 2017 to attack militants in Somalia.

Traditionally, US presidents have been wary of intervening in Somalia since 18 special forces soldiers died fighting militias in the capital Mogadishu in 1993, a battle dramatised in the film Black Hawk Down.

‘Terrorist safe haven’

No civilians were killed in the latest air strikes, which were carried out in co-ordination with the Somali government, the US military said.

“Alongside our Somali and international partners, we are committed to preventing al-Shabab from taking advantage of safe havens from which they can build capacity and attack the people of Somalia,” the US Africa Command said.

Al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, has not yet commented on the latest strikes.

Somalia-basedsecurity think tank the Hiraal Institute said in a report published in November that al-Shabab had been forced to change tactics following the upsurge in air strikes.

The institute said the group was now conducting fewer mass attacks on military bases, but attacks on government offices and businesses which refused to pay it taxes had increased markedly.

The US state department, in its most recent report on terrorism, described Somalia as a “terrorist safe haven” and said al-Shabab remained a threat, despite suffering setbacks.

The group retained control over large parts of the country, and the ability to carry out high-profile attacks using suicide bombers, explosive devices, mortars and small arms, the report added.

In the meantime, a cease-fire went into force early Tuesday in Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeida after intense fighting between government-allied forces and Shiite rebels erupted shortly before theU.N.-brokered truce took hold in the contested city, Yemeni officials said.

They said artillery shelling and heavy machine gun fire shook districts in the south and east of the strategic city late Monday in the final hour before the cease-fire took effect at midnight.

The fighting took place as the two sides were declaring their intention to observe the cease-fire agreed to last week during U.N.-sponsored talks in Sweden between the internationally recognized government and the rebels known as Houthis.

Fighting subsided as the cease-fire took effect, with only the sporadic sound of machine guns heard in the city, which handles about 70 percent of Yemen’s imports.

Under the agreement, a joint committee led by U.N. officers will oversee the cease-fire and the redeployment of the warring parties’ forces out of Hodeida, which is currently controlled by the Houthis. Local authorities and police will run the city and its three ports under U.N. supervision, and the two sides are barred from bringing in reinforcements.

A cessation of hostilities in Hodeida would spare Yemen a significant spike in civilian casualties since the rebels have shown battlefield resilience as much larger government-allied forces backed by airpower tried for months to retake the city. The two sides fought to a stalemate after weeks of ruinous street-to-street fighting in densely populated districts on the city’s outskirts.

Yemen’s civil war, in which a Saudi-led coalition is fighting on the government’s side against the rebels, has pushed much of the country to the brink of famine. U.N. officials say 22 million of its 29 million people are in need of aid.

Speaking Sunday at Doha, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that if Yemen’s humanitarian situation does not improve, 14 million people there will be in need of food aid in 2019, 6 million more than this year.

“There is a high level of hunger in Yemen,” he said. “The fact that famine was not yet declared does not in any way diminish our huge concern with the very high level of hunger that exists in Yemen with a number of people dying in very dramatic circumstances.”

Last week, an international group tracking Yemen’s civil war reported that the conflict has killed more than 60,000 people, both combatants and civilians, since 2016. That figure is much higher than the U.N. figure of 10,000 civilian deaths, and has added to the urgency to find a political resolution for the four-year bloodletting.

The report from the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project said more than 28,000 people — both civilians and combatants — were killed in the first 11 months of 2018, an increase of 68 percent from 2017. More than 3,000 were killed in November, the deadliest month since the group started collecting data. It said 37 percent of civilians killed in Yemen in 2018 died in Hodeida.

The figures do not include the last few months of 2014, when the Houthi rebels captured the Yemeni capital of Sanaa and much of the country’s north, nor the casualties in 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition joined the war on the side of the government.

The group said it based its figures on news reports of each incident of violence in the war.

BBC with additional report from Fox

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Maritime First