U.S. special operations forces launched a night raid against a Somali stronghold of the al Shabaab terror group on Friday, days after the group's deadly attack on a Nairobi shopping mall.
Navy SEAL units landed at the coastal town of Barawe and exchanged fire with al Shabaab militants, according to recent reports.
The Somali-based terror group with ties to al Qaeda's Africa cell, claimed responsibility for the bloody attack on a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital.
Initial reports of the raid on Saturday claimed the mission was carried out by British and Turkish special forces. However London and Ankara immediately denied any involvement in the attack.
"We are not aware of any British involvement in this at all," a British defense ministry spokeswoman told Reuters.
But U.S. national security officials told the New York Times on Saturday the raid was executed by Navy special warfare units.
In a statement Saturday evening, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said, "I can confirm that . . . U.S. military personnel were involved in a counter terrorism operation against a known al-Shabaab terrorist. We are not prepared to provide additional detail at this time," he said.
The counterterrorism operation was aimed at capturing a "high value al-Shabaab terrorist leader" inside Somalia, according to a U.S. official.
American forces "took all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties" during the raid.
U.S. forces "disengaged after inflicting some al Shabaab casualties" during the operation, the official said.
The official declined to provide details on the identities of the al Shabab gunmen killed by American forces, but noted no U.S personnel were injured or killed during the attack.
"The U.S. military attempts to capture terrorists when at all possible," according to the official.
"Even in these extreme operational circumstances the U.S. military is very cautious to minimize civilian casualties," the official added.
The Barawe raid had been planned "a week and a half ago" by U.S. military leaders, in retaliation for the terrorist attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, according to a U.S. national security official.
“The attack was carried out by the American forces and the Somali government was pre-informed about the attack," the official told the Times.
In September, former Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli said American forces in Africa were likely drafting target lists for possible strikes against al Shabaab and other al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups tied to the deadly terrorist attack in Nairobi.
"They're developing targets . . . and refining target lists, trying to fill in any gaps that we possibly have" on potential locations of al Shabaab strongholds in Kenya and elsewhere on the African continent, Chiarelli said during a Sept. 22 interview with ABC.
Somali intelligence officials said U.S. special operations forces were likely involved in the raid, targeting the Chechen commander, known as Abu Diyad.
"They killed his main guard who was also a foreigner. The main target was the Shabaab leader from Chechnya," Somali officials said Saturday.
It remains unclear whether Abu Diyad was killed during the predawn raid.
Eyewitnesses to the Barawe attack claimed a 12-man team of al Shaabab fighters, preparing for an overseas attack, were at the compound in southern Somalia at the time of the strike.
Al Shabaab and the Nigerian-based terror group Boko Haram have steadily increased their ties with AQIM in recent years.
Those affiliations have resulted in the al Qaeda cell evolving into one of the organization's most dangerous factions, second only to al Qaeda's Yemeni cell.
U.S. military and intelligence officials are still having significant difficulty gaining any insight into African-based terror groups.
The relatively small network of intelligence assets in Africa pales in comparison to American assets in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But the resulting blow back from the Mideast counterterror campaign has manifested itself with the rise of al Qaeda factions gaining control of wide swaths of territory in North and Western Africa.
--This report was originally published at 1:08 p.m. and last updated at 9:46 p.m.