WASHINGTON - US forces staged a predawn raid against a senior Shebab militant leader in Somalia though it was unclear whether he was killed or captured, officials said Saturday.
"I can confirm that yesterday, October 4, US military personnel were involved in a counterterrorism operation against a known Shebab terrorist," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.
The assault took place amid reports that US Special Operations Forces had captured in Libya a man known as Abu Anas al-Libi, a long-sought Al-Qaeda operative indicted in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
A US official said the operation in Somalia sought to capture a "high-value" Shebab leader, and that no US personnel were injured or killed.
The operation marked the most significant US assault in Somalia since commandos killed key Al-Qaeda operative Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in the same area four years ago.
It followed an attack by Shebab gunmen last month on the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi that left 67 people dead during a four-day siege.
"US personnel took all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties in this operation and disengaged after inflicting some Shebab casualties," the official said.
Declining to identify the people who died, the official said that "even in these extreme operational circumstances, the US military is very cautious to minimize civilian casualties."
The statement was an acknowledgement of US authorities' concern with the bitter anti-American sentiment fueled by civilian casualties in US military operations.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab had earlier claimed it was British and Turkish special forces that staged a nighttime sea and air attack on one of its bases, but Britain denied any involvement.
Leaders of the Islamist insurgents in the southern Somali port of Barawe said commandos rappelled from a helicopter and tried to storm a house belonging to a senior Shebab commander, but the assault failed.
The SEAL team approached and fired on the unidentified target's seaside villa by sea, according to The New York Times.
Although the Shebab leader was believed to have been killed during the pre-planned assault, the SEALs had to withdraw before they could confirm the kill, a senior US official told the newspaper.
"The Barawe raid was planned a week and a half ago," a US security official told the Times.
"It was prompted by the Westgate attack."
A senior Somali government official told the newspaper that "the attack was carried out by the American forces and the Somali government was pre-informed about the attack."
Shebab spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab told AFP that commandos had stormed the beach by boat, but laid blamed on Britain and Turkey.
"The bungled operation was carried out by white people, who came with two small boats from a larger ship out at sea... one Shebab guard was killed, but reinforcements soon came and the foreigners fled," he said.
"Where the foreigners had been, afterwards we saw lots of blood, so maybe we wounded some."