U.S. Special Operations forces carried out two attacks Saturday in Africa, one in Libya that apprehended an indicted al-Qaeda terrorist and an unsuccessful one in Somalia, in quest of a Kenyan believed to have been involved in various terrorist acts.
The Libyan, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Abu Anas al-Liby, was captured in Tripoli in broad daylight. Linked to the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, he is being interrogated aboard a Navy ship and is expected to be taken to the United States for trial. Efforts to grab the Kenyan of Somali origin, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, had to be abandoned in Somalia in the face of heavy fire encountered by U.S. forces.
Although the reasons to capture the two men were different, it is likely that added motivation for President Barack Obama to approve the missions was to show some spine after choosing not to attack Syria over its chemical weapons. While the actions entailed considerable planning, the timing of their executions served as a brief distraction for the nation from the federal government's shutdown, which has suspended services, furloughed hundreds of thousands of workers and caused Mr. Obama to cancel his trip to Asia.
The abduction in Libya has embarrassed and enraged its government against the United States, even though some Libyan officials may have been aware of the plan in advance. Law and order there are deteriorating rapidly. Russia abandoned its embassy in Tripoli after a mob assaulted it last week. The United States continues to be angry that Libyan authorities have not yet been able to apprehend the killers of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American officers last year in Benghazi.
The U.S. raid in Somalia was likely in response to the Somali al-Shabab attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, two weeks earlier. Although more than 60 people died in the mall rampage, none of the victims has been identified as American. Since 1992 the U.S. military has been involved off and on in Somalia, where there is no effective government to be offended by Saturday's action.
A question for Americans now is whether Libyan or Somali elements will seek revenge in the United States for the actions. The value of the two attacks will have to be assessed in that context and in the added measures of security that may need to follow in this country.
First Published October 7, 2013 8:00 PM