“We know they were going to be departing the camp and they posed an imminent threat to USA and (African Union) forces”, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.
Last year, the US assumed a more direct role in some skirmishes against the militants, launching several drone strikes to support African Union forces battling the group in southern Somalia. The group was apparently training and poised to engage in a “large-scale attack” until it was hit by USA forces.
Somali National Army backed by the AU peacekeeping troops removed the Al-Shabaab group in 2011, but it still carries out frequent attacks showing it is not defeated.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility saying the bomb targeted Western officials and Turkish NATO forces thought to be on the flight.
Al-Shabaab is believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters, and is designated a terrorist organization by the governments of the USA, the United Kingdom, Canada, and others.
“This was a group that was completing training to do a large-scale attack, and it would follow that when they concluded training, they would engage in a large-scale attack”, Capt. Davis said at the Pentagon on Monday.
While the target was a known al Shabaab camp, Mr Earnest said he could not yet confirm whether any civilians had been harmed. Iraq and Syria, where USA airstrikes are pummeling the Islamic State group, now are on that list and won’t be in the report, said a senior administration official, who wasn’t authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.
Davis said the camp was destroyed, but he did not provide specifics about the planned terrorist attack.
“There will obviously be some limitations on where we can be transparent, given a variety of sensitivities – including diplomatic”, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Al-Shabab first took control of Mogadishu in 2006 after its fighters ousted local warlords.
At least four people were injured in a vehicle explosion at the entrance of an airport in central Somalia’s city of Beledweyne, no one was killed, police and witnesses said on Monday.
On January 15, Shebab fighters overran a military outpost in El-Adde, southern Somalia, manned by up to 200 Kenyan soldiers deployed as part of the African Union peace-enforcement mission, AMISOM.
No US forces on the ground participated in the strike.