U.S. Airstrike in Somalia Targets Militant Leader

WASHINGTON - The U.S. launched a missile strike in Somalia today, targeting a senior al Shabaab leader, two Defense officials told ABC News.

The U.S. is still trying to determine whether the attack was successful, officials said.

Al Shabaab is an Islamic militant group that used to control Somalia and is affiliated with al Qaeda.

U.S. forces "conducted a coordinated operation against a senior al Qaeda/al Shabaab leader in a remote area near Barawe, Somalia," a Defense official told ABC News.

"We are not yet in a position to confirm the results of the operation, but are working to do so," the official added.

Neither official wanted to discuss the identity of the target of the strike.

The officials described the attack as a missile strike and said no U.S. ground forces were involved in the operation.

In October, Navy SEALs launched an unsuccessful raid in Barawe to snatch a high profile senior al Qaeda al Shabab leader. That mission had to be aborted after the SEALs were engaged in a heavier than expected firefight.

It was unclear whether the missiles were launched by an unarmed Predator drone or manned aircraft. The United States flies armed Predator missions over Somalia from neighboring Djibouti targeting al Shabaab leaders.

Until recently U.S. military activities had been restricted to special operations missions and airstrikes. There had been no regular U.S. military presence in Somalia since 1993 when 18 American service members died when their helicopters were brought down by Somali fighters in an incident that became known as "Blackhawk Down."

Earlier this month the Pentagon announced that the military had established a "coordination cell" of "less than five" service members who are based in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. The team is coordinating communications between the Somali government and African Union troops in Somalia that are fighting al-Shabaab. In 2011, A.U. forces pushed al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu, but the militant group still controls areas of southern Somalia.

Al-Shabaab not only seeks to establish an Islamic state in Somalia, but has also planned terror attacks outside its boundaries.

Its most high-proflie attack was the deadly attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya last September that killed 67 people.