By Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military said it killed more than 100 Islamist militants in Somalia on Tuesday when it launched an air strike against al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked insurgent group that wants to topple the U.N.-backed government.
The military's Africa Command said the strike was carried out on a camp 125 miles (201 km) northwest of the capital, Mogadishu and that the United States would continue to target militants.
The strike was done in coordination with Somalia's federal government, the Pentagon said.
U.S. air strikes killing such a large number of militants in Somalia are rare, but not unprecedented. In March 2016, a U.S. air strike killed more than 150 al Shabaab fighters in Somalia.
Somalia's state news agency SONNA reported late on Tuesday that "about 100 militants" were killed when U.S. planes and Somali commandos attacked al Shabaab bases in the Bur Elay area of Bay region.
Al Shabaab spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab denied the attack. "It is just...propaganda," he told Reuters in Somalia.
Al Shabaab is fighting to topple Somalia’s Western-backed transitional federal government and impose its own rule on the Horn of Africa country.
Earlier this month, the U.S. warned of a threat to its diplomatic staff in Mogadishu and directed all non-essential staff to leave the capital.
Al Shabaab has lost control of most of Somalia’s cities and towns since it was pushed out of Mogadishu in 2011. But it retains a strong presence in parts of the south and centre and carries out gun and bomb attacks.
"Al-Shabaab has publicly committed to planning and conducting attacks against the U.S. and our partners in the region," the U.S. military statement said.
Al Shabaab aims to topple Somalia's government, drive out African Union peacekeeping troops and impose its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
Earlier this month, the U.S. military also carried out its first strikes against Islamic State militants in Somalia and said it killed "several terrorists."
(Additional reporting by Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; Reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell)