(VOA)- WASHINGTON / PENTAGON / LONDON —
A U.S. airstrike has targeted Islamic State in northern Somalia, defense officials told VOA Friday.
The strike resulted in at least one casualty, a U.S. defense official said, without elaborating on the target of the attack.
The chairman of the town of Qandala, Jama Mohamed Qurshe, told VOA Somali that several missiles hit a base for IS militants at Buqa village, 60 kilometers south of his town in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.
“According to the information we are getting from the ground, six missiles hit the militants’ base in the mountainous area. Local residents and pastorialists were shocked and fled from the area," Qurshe said.
He said that prior to the strike, residents reporting hearing airplane sounds.
Details of the strike are still not clear due to the remoteness of the area, which locals said was only accessible to the militants; however, local officials and residents suspect the airstrike targeted the group’s senior leaders and perhaps even its top leader.
The pro-Islamic State faction in northeastern Somalia is led by Sheikh Abdulkadir Mumin, a former al-Shabab cleric who pledged his allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2015. In 2016, the U.S. State Department designated Mumin as a global terrorist.
Since the emergence of the IS faction in October 2015, the militants have claimed responsibility for at least four deadly attacks in Puntland.
In late October of last year, the militants briefly seized Qandala, before they were driven out by Puntland's government.
No cutoff in funding
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has denied reports that it is planning to cut funding for the Somali government.
Somali media reports said the U.S. might reduce funding because unnamed Somali officials helped facilitate the October 14 truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed more than 350 people.
There were also reports that linked the alleged cut to an internal State Department finding that the department's Africa Bureau is failing to ensure that U.S. funding is not diverted to al-Shabab militants.
In an email, a State Department official told VOA the reports were "incorrect."
“Reports of funding being suspended to the Somali army due to alleged facilitation of the bombings by Somali officials are incorrect,” the official wrote. "The United States continues to provide extensive support to Somali security forces in their efforts to combat al-Shabab.”
On Wednesday, the Daily Nation, a leading newspaper in Kenya, quoted a report from the State Department's Office of Inspector General. The report said the Africa Bureau had not established policy and procedures for identifying and mitigating terrorist financing risks for its programs in countries where militant organizations like al-Shabab and Boko Haram operate.
In his email, the State Department official said, “The United States prioritizes transparency and accountability in its partnership with Somalia, echoing one of the top priorities articulated by President Farmaajo upon his taking office earlier this year."
"We have communicated conditions for U.S. security assistance to the federal government of Somalia, which includes enhanced measures to ensure proper oversight of our support," he added.
Meanwhile, Somali leaders and the governors of Somali states are meeting for the fourth straight day in Mogadishu, in an effort to agree on implementation of a joint security plan.
The government is said to be preparing for a major offensive against al-Shabab.