An airstrike from military aircraft hit a convoy carrying al-Qaida-linked militants in southern Somalia, and a defense official said Friday that foreign fighters were among those killed in an attack carried out by a "partner country."
Military aircraft struck a militant convey as it drove along the coastline of the southern port city of Kismayo late Thursday, according to a resident there, Mohamed Aden.
A leader inside the insurgent group al-Shabab, Sheik Hassan Yaqub, confirmed the strike and said two militants were wounded. Aden, said he saw three wounded militants in the Kismayo on Friday.
Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig, Somalia's deputy defense minister, said the attack was a coordinated operation that killed "many" foreign fighters.
"I have their names, but I don't want to release them," he told The Associated Press.
No nation immediately took responsibility for the attack, though U.S. aircraft have attacked militants in Somalia before. A U.S. airstrike killed a senior al-Shabab leader in 2008, while a U.S. commando raid in 2009 killed the militant wanted for the 2002 car bombing of a Kenyan beach resort.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman in neighboring Nairobi, Kenya, said all questions on the issue needed to be referred to the Pentagon.
Hidig said a "partner country" carried out the attack. He called it a successful military operation.
"The target was one of their (al-Shabab's) most important fortresses where foreigners were staying," he said. "It's not only that attack but there will be further military attacks targeting them. There are casualties inflicted to them but we shall release that information later."
The overnight strike near Kismayo occurred near a militant camp, leading some residents to say the camp was being attacked.
"We heard bangs of explosions first and again after minutes, more loud blasts," said Ali Abdinur, a resident, said by phone. "I don't know what happened but the place was an al-Shabab camp."
Yaqub, the al-Shabab leader, talked to a militant-run radio station after the attack.
"Two enemy aircraft attacked our mujahedeen fighters at a time they were conducting a security patrol near Kismayo" he told the radio station.
Aden, the Kismayo resident, said aircraft flew over Kismayo and that there were then two loud bangs. Militants immediately cordoned off the area and ferried the wounded _ and possibly any dead _ to the city.
Aden said he visited the scene of the attack and saw two destroyed pickup trucks and a third heavily damaged car.
"The damages to the cars indicate that there may have been deaths, but it is hard to confirm because the attack took place immediately after sunset and no one was allowed to access it until Friday morning," he said.
Aden said that al-Shabab fighters fired at the aircraft, including a helicopter.
The airstrikes came less than two weeks after a Somali soldier killed al-Qaida's top leader in Somalia, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was wanted for his role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Mohammed was carrying sophisticated weapons, maps, and correspondence when he was killed, a potential treasure trove of intelligence about militant activity in Somalia.
The U.S. has a military base in the small nation of Djibouti, which lies directly to the north of Somalia. The U.S. Navy also patrols off East Africa as part of the international anti-piracy effort.
U.S. officials believe that al-Shabab counts several hundred foreign fighters among its ranks, including militant veterans of conflicts in Iraq and Pakistan. An American who joined al-Shabab _ Omar Hammami, known as Abu Mansur al-Amriki, or "the American _ is among the foreign fighters military officials have said they would like to see killed or captured.
Somalia has not had a functioning government for 20 years, the reason militancy and piracy have been able to flourish in the country.
Muhumed contributed from Nairobi, Kenya.