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Pentagon investigates claim a drone strike in Somalia killed two kidnapped Cuban doctors

The fate of two Cuban doctors kidnapped by an al Qaeda-linked group in Somalia five years ago is uncertain as the Pentagon said it is investigating claims the two were allegedly killed during an American drone strike against the terrorist organization.

The militant group al-Shabaab violently abducted doctors Assel Herrera Correa, a specialist in general medicine, and Landy Rodriguez Hernandez, a surgeon, from nearby Kenya in April 2019. The group claimed in a statement that the Cubans were killed in an American drone strike in the city of Jilib in central Somalia on Feb. 15.

Their claims have not been independently verified.

Maj. Pete Nguyen, a Department of Defense spokesperson, confirmed “there was an airstrike conducted against the al Shabaab network on Feb. 15 near Jilib, Somalia.”

He said the Pentagon was aware of reports of “a strike alleged to have killed two civilians. We do not have any further information at this time about these reports, but we do take all claims of civilian casualties seriously.”

He said that the U.S. Africa Command, which works with the Somalian army to attack al-Shaabab targets, was still assessing the results of the operation.

On Friday, the president of Cuba’s National Assembly, Esteban Lazo, met with the president of Kenya, William Ruto, to seek clarity on the situation of the kidnapped doctors, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said.

Ruto said Lazo brought “a special message” from Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel and praised the relationship between the two countries but did not mention the doctors in postings on X, the former Twitter.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez thanked Ruto for receiving Lazo with short notice. “We have confidence in his willingness to support efforts to clarify the situation facing Cuban doctors” Herrera and Rodríguez, he wrote on X.

Rodríguez also said he had spoken with Somalia’s foreign affairs minister, Ali Mohamed Omar. “We talked about the necessary cooperation to clarify the current situation of our beloved doctors,” Rodríguez said.

Despite negotiations and at least two rescue attempts by Kenyan and Somalian forces, the doctors were kept in captivity by Al-Shaabab since they were kidnapped. The two had been sent to the Kenyan border city of Mandera in 2018 as part of an official deal to send Cuban doctors to Kenya and local physicians to Cuba to get training.

Cuba relies on its controversial medical missions to earn foreign currency. The missions are riddled with complaints that the Cuban government keeps most of the doctor’s salaries, restricts their movements and punishes those who decide to abandon their posts. The United States regards the missions as “forced labor” and has included Cuba in a human-trafficking blacklist.

“Assel and Landy represent the noble and generous spirit of a people who share even what they do not have, with the humble of the earth,” Díaz-Canel said on X. “Cuba does not lose hope of finding them alive. We will do so as long as there is no official confirmation that they have died.”