Somalia’s information minister Abdirahman Osman said late Friday that 56 were people still missing. Another 228 people were wounded, and 122 had been airlifted for treatment in Turkey, Sudan and Kenya.
“This pain will last for years,” said a sheikh leading the Friday prayers at the bombing site, as long lines of mourners stood in front of flattened or tangled buildings.
Since the election of the country’s Somali-American president in February, the government has announced a number of military offensives against al-Shabab, Africa’s deadliest Islamic extremist group, only to end them weeks later with no explanation. Experts believe that has given the extremists breathing space and emboldened them in their guerrilla attacks.
Iman, Somalia’s army spokesman, told the AP that troops recaptured three towns in Lower Shabelle region from al-Shabab on Friday in preparation for the new offensive.
Somali officials did not give details on what role the U.S. military might play. There was no immediate response late Friday from the U.S. Africa Command.
The U.S. has stepped up military involvement in the long-fractured Horn of Africa nation since President Donald Trump approved expanded operations against the group early this year. The U.S. has carried out at least 19 drone strikes in Somalia since January, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The latest U.S. drone strike occurred Monday about 35 miles (56 kilometers) southwest of the capital, the U.S. Africa Command told the AP earlier Friday. It said it was still assessing the results.
Earlier this week, in response to questions about the massive truck bombing, a Pentagon spokesman said the United States has about 400 troops in Somalia and “we’re not going to speculate” about sending more.
In April, the U.S. announced it was sending dozens of regular troops to Somalia in the largest such deployment to the country in roughly two decades. The U.S. said it was for logistics training of Somalia’s army and that about 40 troops were taking part.
Weeks later, a service member was killed during an operation against al-Shabab. He was the first American to die in combat in Somalia since 1993.