US Strike Against Al-Shabab Leader Reflects Obama’s Counterterrorism Strategy

Somali soldiers patrol near the wreckage of a car bomb that detonated in Mogadishu, on July 9, 2014.

Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

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Somali soldiers patrol near the wreckage of a car bomb that detonated in Mogadishu, on July 9, 2014.

A targeted U.S. air strike against al-Shabab’s leader in Somalia is exactly how the Pentagon wants it to work in Africa and the Middle East. By Stephanie Gaskell

The intelligence was solid and pointed to a facility just south of Mogadishu. A truck reportedly carrying al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was heading there. So on Monday, the Pentagon deployed both manned and unmanned aircraft and fired off several Hellfire and precision-guided missiles on the targetwith no U.S. troops on the ground in sight.

“We certainly believe that we hit what we were aiming at,” said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby on Tuesday, “and based on intelligence…we believe was actionablein other words, strong enoughwe took this strike.” 

Kirby said U.S. military officials are still assessing whether they killed Godane, the terrorist leader behind the deadly attacks on a shopping mall in Kenya last fall. The Associated Press reported that Godane was indeed in one of the trucks, but couldn’t confirm whether he was killed in the attack.

It’s a reminder that while the Obama administration struggles with a strategy to fight Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon has been carrying out pinprick strikes against terrorists across Africa for some time. In January, a U.S. attack killed a high-ranking al-Shabab intelligence officer. Last October, a vehicle carrying senior members of the group was hit in a U.S. strike that killed al-Shabab’s top explosives expert, according to AP.

If successful, the operation is a textbook example of the U.S. strategy against growing, global networks of Islamic extremists in the Middle East and Africa: partner up with local nations, build strong intelligence for targeted strikes and keep no U.S. boots on the ground.  

“Without speculating about whether he was, in fact, killed or notI mean, he is the recognized appointed leader of the al-Shabab network in Somaliaso if he was killed, this is a very significant blow to their network, to their organization and, we believe, to their ability to continue to conduct terrorist attacks,” Kirby said. “Now, mind you, it’s a network, and we understand that. And we’re mindful that there arethere remain other leaders of the organization at large. But he’s the recognized leader. And if we killed him, significant blow to their organization and to their abilities.”

Expect news of more strikes to come out of Africa. The Pentagon just signed an agreement to open a new drone base in Niger, according to The Washington Post. It’s the third U.S. drone base in Africa.

And expect more American allies to step up to the fight. The French led the fight against the recent uprising of Islamic militants in Mali. But President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will try to convince NATO members at the summit in Wales this week that they need to help more in the region, as U.S. leaders continue to urge Middle East leaders to take their fight against the Islamic State and other extremist fighters out from the shadows.

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