In an operation conducted late Sunday night, the United States (U.S.) conducted drone strikes on an encampment in Somalia believed to have housed Ahmed Abdi Godane, leader of al-Shabaab. A radical Islamic insurgency in control of vast swaths of southern Somalia, al-Shabaab has massacred Christians, publicly beheading a Christian convert earlier this summer to send a message to all Somalis: apostasy, or leaving Islam, will be punished with death. While it remains unclear as to whether the strike killed Godane, the action once again speaks to growing successes in the battle against al-Shabaab and its extreme enforcement of Sharia law.
09/03/2014 Somalia (Foreign Policy) – U.S. officials are assessing whether an airstrike in Somalia killed the leader of the al-Shabab terrorist group, a potentially significant blow to the al Qaeda affiliate responsible for a wave of bloody attacks across Africa.
The officials confirmed Tuesday, Sept. 2, that the target of Monday’s attack was Ahmed Abdi Godane, al-Shabab’s leader, but said the Pentagon is still assessing whether Godane had actually been killed. The United States and close allies like Israel have previously touted the killings of other top militants, only to later discover that the targets had escaped unscathed.
U.S. special operations forces, “working from actionable intelligence” and using manned and unmanned aircraft, along with Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions, destroyed an encampment and a vehicle in south central Somalia, the Pentagon’s press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, told reporters in a briefing at the Pentagon. No U.S. troops were on the ground in Somalia before or after the strike, he added.
“We certainly believe that we hit what we were aiming at,” Kirby said, but cautioned that he “wouldn’t get into assessing the effectiveness right now.”
Abu Mohammed, an al-Shabab commander and spokesman, told the Associated Press that Godane was in one of two vehicles hit by the strikes, but would not say whether he was one of six militants killed.
If Godane was killed, it could represent a significant blow to al-Shabab, the al Qaeda-affiliated group that has contributed to Somalia’s destabilization and is responsible for a number of high-profile attacks throughout Africa.
“I think [Godane] put the organization in a very vulnerable position,” said Hussein Mahmoud Sheikh-Ali, the senior counterterrorism advisor to Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, in remarks at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday. “If he’s killed, it’s going to be a game-changer.”
The airstrike comes as U.S. President Barack Obama and his aides deliberate over whether to ratchet up the U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State, a militant group that controls broad swaths of Syria and Iraq. The White House has been open about its deep reluctance to get too heavily involved in the fight against the militants, largely to avoid getting enmeshed in a potentially open-ended conflict with the extremists. U.S. intelligence officials say they don’t know the location of the Islamic State’s shadowy leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In Somalia, by contrast, U.S. forces have long worked closely with Somali and other African forces to rout out al-Shabab, which has battled the country’s weak central government and has carried out deadly strikes outside the country’s borders, such as the September 2013 attack at Kenya’s Westgate mall that killed at least 67 people.