U.S. officials said Tuesday that a senior leader of the al-Shabab extremist group in Somalia was killed in a U.S. airstrike in the southern part of the country over the weekend.

At the Defense Department, Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said that the group's head of external operations was targeted in the Saturday airstrike, which was carried out by U.S. special operations forces using unmanned aircraft and Hellfire missiles. He said officials are still waiting to determine for certain if Yusuf Dheeq is dead.

Other U.S. officials said Dheeq was killed in the strike.

Kirby said Dheeq was directly involved in planning and conducting attacks outside of Somalia. He said that if it is confirmed that Dheeq was killed, it would be another significant blow to the group.

Kirby said the U.S. continues to target al-Shabab leaders because the group is a terror network allied with al-Qaida that poses a direct threat both to the region and to American interests.

U.S. officials said at least one other group member was killed in the attack. They said the strike was near the town of Dinsoor in the southwestern bay region. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The U.S. has been targeting the al-Shabab leadership in a series of strikes over the past few months. In late December, the Pentagon confirmed that a U.S. strike killed intelligence chief Tahlil Abdishakur, and the group's previous leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Somalia on Sept. 1.

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Associated Press writer Ken Dilanian contributed to this report.