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The US military says it has killed 27 al-Shabab militants in central Somalia

Sunday’s airstrike in the Hiran region of Somalia is the sixth this year, the US Africa Command says on its website.

The US military said it had killed 27 al-Shabab militants in Somalia’s central Hiran region, where the country’s army and allied forces launched an offensive against the group last month.

In a statement Wednesday, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said it conducted an airstrike against al-Shabab militants who attacked Somali forces near the town of Buulobarde on September 18.

AFRICOM said no civilians were killed at the “largest combined Somali and [African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, ATMIS] offensive operation in five years”.

The US has been conducting airstrikes against al-Shabab, an armed group linked to al-Qaeda, in Somalia for years.

Sunday’s strike in Buulobarde, some 200 km (125 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu, was the sixth strike this year, according to the AFRICOM website.

Residents in the Hiran region say al-Shabab’s burning of houses, destruction of wells and killing of civilians, coupled with tax demands amid the worst drought in 40 years, has prompted locals to form paramilitary groups to join the side to fight the government.

Earlier this month, al-Shabab militants killed at least 19 civilians and destroyed trucks delivering food aid in an attack in the area.

Ali Abdulle, a community leader in the town of Beledweyne, told the Associated Press over the phone that al-Shabab had made life so miserable for residents that they had to fight back.

“Al-Shabab burned our villages, blew up our wells and boreholes, destroyed telecom towers and planted IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and indiscriminately murdered civilians,” he said. “So we have no choice but to face them.”

For more than a decade, al-Shabab has fought against Somalia’s central government to establish its own rule based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

An ATMIS spokesman and Somali government officials did not respond to Reuters requests for comment on Sunday’s airstrike.

ATMIS has not publicly acknowledged any role in the operation, which an elder said has captured 10 villages from al-Shabab in recent weeks.

Human rights activists have previously accused Washington of concealing its Somalia operations, potentially undermining accountability for incidents that resulted in civilian deaths.

In April, US lawmakers proposed legislation to prevent civilian harm during US military operations and increase transparency in such incidents.

The bills would require the Pentagon to improve investigations into civilian deaths, establish a database for such investigations, and set up a center to advise the US government on “best practices for preventing, mitigating, and responding to civilian harm.”

The legislation also calls for an unclassified report on how the US Department of Defense “has distinguished between combatants and civilians in US military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya and Yemen since 2001.”

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