U.S. drone strike in Somalia targets militant group leader

Al-Shabab confirms Godane’s presence in attack

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WASHINGTON — The Pen­ta­gon dis­closed Tues­day that it tried to kill the leader of the mil­i­tant group al-Sha­bab in an air at­tack in Soma­lia, fir­ing sev­eral Hell­fire mis­siles and drop­ping other mu­ni­tions on a camp on the coun­try’s south­ern coast.

It was un­clear whether the tar­get, Muk­h­tar Abu Zubeyr, a com­mander more widely known as Ahmed Abdi Go­dane, per­ished or sur­vived Mon­day’s drone strike. The op­er­a­tion marked the most ag­gres­sive U.S. mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in Soma­lia in nearly a year, and came as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was al­ready grap­pling with se­cu­rity cri­ses in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pen­ta­gon press sec­re­tary, said Spe­cial Oper­a­tions forces launched the at­tack af­ter ob­tain­ing rare “ac­tion­able in­tel­li­gence” on the where­abouts of Mr. Go­dane, an elu­sive fig­ure who has sur­vived in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal threats since tak­ing con­trol of al-Sha­bab in 2007.

Adm. Kirby said U.S. drones and other air­craft de­stroyed a sus­pected al-Sha­bab com­pound, as well as a ve­hi­cle nearby. In a de­par­ture from the Pen­ta­gon’s usual re­luc­tance to dis­cuss drone op­er­a­tions, he bluntly ac­knowl­edged that the in­tent was to kill Mr. Go­dane, the sus­pected mas­ter­mind of nu­mer­ous at­tacks in the re­gion, in­clud­ing the deaths of doz­ens of peo­ple at a Ken­yan shop­ping mall last year.

“The prin­ci­pal tar­get was Mr. Go­dane,” Adm. Kirby said. The mil­i­tary, he added, was still as­sess­ing the af­ter­math of the at­tack and whether it had been suc­cess­ful. But he said Mr. Go­dane’s death would be “a very sig­nifi­cant blow to their net­work, to their or­ga­ni­za­tion and, we be­lieve, to their abil­ity to con­tinue to con­duct ter­ror­ist at­tacks.”

Al-Sha­bab, which means “the Youth” in Ar­a­bic, is a ji­ha­dist move­ment af­fil­i­ated with al-Qaida. Born in Soma­lia, a chron­i­cally un­sta­ble coun­try on the Horn of Africa, it has trans­formed it­self from a do­mes­tic in­sur­gency into a re­gional ter­ror­ist group that has also car­ried out at­tacks in Kenya and Uganda. The net­work also has co­op­er­ated with al-Qaida’s fran­chise in Yemen.

Although Mr. Go­dane has sworn al­le­giance to al-Qaida, U.S. coun­ter­ter­ror­ism of­fi­cials have been di­vided over how much of a di­rect threat al-Sha­bab poses to the United States. At a Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence, Adm. Kirby said the group rep­re­sented a broad threat be­yond Soma­lia and as­serted that it had tar­geted U.S. per­son­nel in East Africa.

An al-Sha­bab spokes­man told the As­so­ci­ated Press that Mr. Go­dane was pres­ent at the scene of the strike but would not elab­o­rate on his fate. Pen­ta­gon of­fi­cials said they would be cau­tious be­fore draw­ing any de­fin­i­tive con­clu­sions. Sev­eral al-Qaida lead­ers have been re­ported killed in drone strikes in Yemen and Paki­stan, only to re­sur­face later on, very much alive.

Somali of­fi­cials said the strike oc­curred near the port city of Barawe. Adm. Kirby would not iden­tify what spe­cific types of air­craft took part in the op­er­a­tion, but said no U.S. forces were on the ground.

Hus­sein Mahmoud Sheikh-Ali, the se­nior coun­ter­ter­ror­ism ad­viser for Soma­lia’s fed­eral gov­ern­ment, said Mr. Go­dane had tried to po­si­tion him­self as a key leader within the broader al-Qaida move­ment and would be dif­fi­cult for al-Sha­bab to re­place.

Mr. Sheikh-Ali said the Somali gov­ern­ment was like­wise still try­ing to con­firm Mr. Go­dane’s fate. If he is dead, Mr. Sheikh-Ali said, Soma­lia’s gov­ern­ment would move quickly to reach out to less hard-line al-Sha­bab fig­ures in an at­tempt to rec­on­cile with some fac­tions of the move­ment. “His kill­ing would be a game-changer,” he said. “They’re go­ing to strug­gle, and there’s go­ing to be huge op­por­tu­nity for the gov­ern­ment to take ad­van­tage.”

Bron­wyn Bru­ton, an ex­pert on African se­cu­rity at the At­lan­tic Coun­cil, said Mr. Go­dane was less an ideo­logue than a fighter, but that “no­body re­ally knows” whether he posed the same kind of di­rect threat as other al-Qaida af­fil­i­ates. “He’s pretty much a hired gun,” she said. “If he thought there was power and glory in it, he’d prob­a­bly kill his mother.”

If Mr. Go­dane turns out to be dead, Ms. Bru­ton said, his ri­vals may seek to re­shape al-Sha­bab back into a do­mes­tic in­sur­gency. The move­ment, she said, has lost pop­u­lar sup­port in Soma­lia be­cause of its bru­tal tac­tics and its em­brace of for­eign fight­ers.

The U.S. mil­i­tary fre­quently con­ducts drone sur­veil­lance flights over Soma­lia, but air­strikes and ground raids are rel­a­tively un­com­mon.

The Pen­ta­gon last Oc­to­ber qui­etly de­ployed a small team of ad­vis­ers to Mog­a­di­shu, Soma­lia’s cap­i­tal, to co­or­di­nate op­er­a­tions with African troops fight­ing to wrest con­trol of the coun­try from al-Sha­bab. The de­ploy­ment marked the first time reg­u­lar U.S. troops have been sta­tioned in the war-rav­aged coun­try since 1993, when two he­li­cop­ters were shot down and 18 Amer­i­cans were killed in the “Black Hawk Down” di­sas­ter.

United States - North America - United States military - United States government - Middle East - Mogadishu - Somalia - East Africa - Africa - Somalia government - Al-Shabaab - District of Columbia - U.S. Department of Defense - Yemen - Al-Qaida - U.S. Navy SEALs - U.S. Navy - John Kirby


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