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Secrets of the Secret War: Why Did Weekend Somalia Raid Fail?

Al-Shabaab claims it inflicted casualties, U.S. claims pullback after hour of fighting was to avoid civilian casualties, Somali minister says U.S. was outgunned.

Bridget Johnson


October 7, 2013 - 9:13 pm

The Defense Department’s Friday night operation to go after an Al-Shabaab commander in Somalia peeled the veil a bit off the Obama administration’s ongoing secret war in Somalia, but left many questions about the story behind the failed raid.

Pentagon press secretary George Little confirmed today that U.S. military personnel conducted a “targeted operation” against Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, a.k.a. “Ikrima,” a Kenyan of Somali origin and a top commander in the al-Qaeda affiliate.

Ikrima is “closely associated” with late al-Qaeda operatives Harun Fazul and Saleh Nabhan, who played roles in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.

“The goal of the operation was to capture Ikrima under legal authorities granted to the Department of Defense by the Authorization to Use Military Force (2001) against al-Qaeda and its associated forces,” Little said. “While the operation did not result in Ikrima’s capture, U.S. military personnel conducted the operation with unparalleled precision and demonstrated that the United States can put direct pressure on al-Shabaab leadership at any time of our choosing.”

“Working in partnership with the government of the Federal Republic of Somalia, the United States military will continue to confront the threat posed by Al-Shabaab. The United States military has unmatched capabilities and could rely on any of them to disrupt terrorist networks and plots.”

Somali Radio Mustaqbal reported that after the U.S. attack via sea on a coastal headquarters in Barawe, Shabaab directed extra resources to the district and imposed a 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew on the area. Somali Current reported that Al-Shabaab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, a.k.a. Godane, was in the house just hours before the U.S. raid, suggesting that SEALTeam Six may have had a weightier target in mind than the Pentagon admitted.

Godane was known to use the villa for some R&R. Somali Current reported that he stayed close to Barawe for nearly a day after the hourlong gun battle with U.S. forces. Al-Shabaab then closed down the town, searched every home and arrested an “unconfirmed number” of people under the accusation that they colluded with “invaders.” Some local media also reported a Chechen member of al-Qaeda was staying at the villa.

The “prudent decision” by U.S. forces to pull back from the Somali raid contrasted with the success of a concurrent operation in Libya, where Abu Anas al-Libi, accused of masterminding the 1998 embassy bombings, was captured in Tripoli.

White House spokesman Jay Carney referred all questions about the Somali raid to the Pentagon today, but confirmed “the president approved both operations in both Libya and Somalia.”

“And when an approval like this happens, there is obviously discretion given to commanders as to when they initiate and fulfill those missions,” Carney added. “So it is a coincidence that they happened at the same time.”

“The mujahidin repulsed their attack and in Allah’s wishes they have and we chased them until they reached the coast,” Al-Shabaab military operations spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Mus’ab said, according to Dalsan Radio. “We have killed one white officer and wounded at least two others.”

The Pentagon spokesman made no mention either way about deaths or injuries. Officials told Reuters that there were no casualties among the SEALs but they retreated to avoid civilian casualties. A local man told Dalsan Radio that he saw a bulletproof vest left behind by the U.S. forces as well as two ladders.

President Obama would likely fear any casualties on such a mission sparking memories of President Clinton’s unpopular Black Hawk Down Battle of Mogadishu.

Somali Foreign Minister Fawzia Yusuf Adam told CNN on Sunday that her government believes “not just Al-Shabaab” repelled the U.S. forces from the Barawe hideout.

“This is al-Qaeda. It’s a global phenomenon. People from all over the place come there,” she said, before claiming the terror group is on its “last legs.”

“We accepted it. We welcomed it. We are welcoming more if this will help us get rid of Al Qaeda/Al-Shabaab,” Adam added of the U.S. operation. “We have cooperation and they don’t have to ask us because we are fighting a common enemy. This is what we feel and we are grateful for their support. Otherwise, the whole region will be in turmoil.”

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) today compared Somalia to “the Wild West.”

“There are people there being trained to kill as terrorists. Al Shabaab is the group that really did the unspeakable, killing of innocent people in Kenya. And they are trained, and they have ammunition, and they know what they’re doing,” Ruppersburger said. “…But we had to come back. We didn’t want any of our Navy members who put their lives on the line for us to be hurt. They had gunfire, they had resistance, and they decided to come back.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday that “these operations in Libya and Somalia send a strong message to the world that the United States will spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable, no matter where they hide or how long they evade justice.”

“We will continue to maintain relentless pressure on terrorist groups that threaten our people or our interests, and we will conduct direct action against them, if necessary, that is consistent with our laws and our values,” Hagel said.

Still, the government turned more focus on the al-Libi capture, even as some Libyans angrily charged the U.S. with kidnapping the wanted terrorist. As if the Al-Shabaab nut wasn’t hard enough to crack, the failure of the raid let the terror group add another feather to its cap as it rallies jihadists in the wake of the horrifying attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi.

Thus the details coming from Washington were shrouded in mystery much like other operations in Somalia during this administration.

President Obama told Congress in the “consolidated” version of this summer’s report on U.S. activities consistent with the War Powers Resolution that “in Somalia, the U.S. military has worked to counter the terrorist threat posed by al-Qa’ida and associated elements of al-Shabaab.”

A July report by the U.N. Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea charged that the Obama administration has expanded its secret war in Somalia in such a way that could violate the arms embargo.

“A large part of the assistance provided to the Somali security forces involved in counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism operations at the federal and regional levels has not been reported. According to multiple diplomatic and military sources, the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom are increasingly involved in directly supporting intelligence services in ‘Somaliland’, ‘Puntland’ and Mogadishu, at times in violation of resolutions 733 (1992) and 1425 (2002),” the report states.

“From August 2012 to March 2013, the Monitoring Group identified 84 civilian flights operated to Mogadishu and ‘Puntland’ by the United States-based air companies Prescott Support Co. and RAM Air Services, which are connected to United States support to ‘Puntland’ and Mogadishu intelligence services, 54 in comparison to 65 flights counted in the same period of the previous mandate of the Monitoring Group, indicating an increase in United States support.”

Al-Shabaab claimed in July that it killed a veteran CIA official-turned-contractor who oversaw the agency’s September 2001 plunge into Afghanistan as well as another CIA operative as U.S. officials accompanied an African Union convoy from the airport in Mogadishu. The U.S. government didn’t respond to the public claims.

Soon after that claim, though, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter became the highest-ranking Pentagon official to ever visit Uganda to meet with “senior government and military leaders to affirm the growing security partnership between the United States and Uganda,” the other country that Al-Shabaab claimed was working with the U.S. on the suicide-bombed Mogadishu mission.

Carter “met with U.S. personnel supporting the Ugandan military’s effort to remove leaders of the LRA from the battlefield and a separate contingent of U.S. forces providing specialized counterterrorism training to Ugandan forces who will deploy as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia.”

U.S. Special Forces waged a helicopter raid in southern Somalia in 2009 to kill al-Qaeda-linked Saleh Ali Nabhan, wanted in the 2002 bombing of a resort in Kenya and linked to the 1998 embassy bombings.

That raid also took place near Barawe. At least four helicopters swooped in from a nearby U.S. vessel, fired at and struck Nabhan’s vehicle, and then one of the helicopters landed to grab the four bodies.

“We must not make the same mistake with Al-Shabaab that we did with al-Qaeda and that is viewing it as only a local or regional threat,” Don Borelli, COO of The Soufan Group and a 25-year FBI veteran, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week. “In the early 1990s, many smart people ignored al-Qaeda because it was seen as a group only focused on the Middle East and Central Asia. We have seen how a terrorist organization gone unchecked can morph into a global threat. We must not let that happen with Al-Shabaab.”


What books does Bridget Johnson recommend for 2013? Click here to see her picks at the Freedom Academy Book Club. 

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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Top Rated Comments   
I'm very pleased the guys up front got the h... outta there. If you want to go after those mfs do it. Otherwise STFO. If you need surgery, go to a trained surgeon. The "message" we just sent is already known, Half Brother Barry is a damned fool.

So exacltly what would have happened to any one " captured " ? They'd get their rights read and the full constitutional protections I supposedly have. Every Seal knows it. Good Work Men. Live To Fight Another Day, when what you fight for matters. Not the whim of the ultimate REMF.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
personally, whack job that i am, believe there was no reason to put the seal assets on the ground in somalia

i am the most hawkish person around yet when our country employs the current self-defeating rules of engagement i morph into some kind of isolationist

somalia still needs the payback it deserved after the disaster in mogadishu
and until we are willing to go in and "break lots of stuff and get real nasty" then there is no reason to insert the seals

call me old fashioned but i still believe fear is the only deterrent the real bad guys respect and until we strike fear in our enemies any other action is out of place
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Look, as tough and skilled as they are, SEALs are not supposed to become decisively engaged. They're not line infantry. They're way too skilled to use that way and way too light to stand and fight for long, especially without air and artillery cover...which I'm sure we didn't have in Somalia as they are likely outlawed by our ROE, the UN, and Susan Sarandon.

My question is not, why did they pull out? But rather, what on earth are we doing wasting SEALs in Somalia? That's like using a Rolls Royce to get a pack of smokes at the 7-11. And doesn't The One just love, love, love using drones to whack terrorists (along with the occasional defenseless woman and child, termed "collateral damage")? We got scads of 'em in Djibouti....why didn't we just use them instead? Obama might have gotten an American citizen too.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (27)
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What this shows is that this is not "Mission Impossible."

There are a lot of factors that simply cannot be foreseen. Or as Clausewitz (almost) said; the enemy gets a vote.

Sh!t happens and there are a lot of Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns" that affect the outcome.

This doesn't say anything about the skill and professionalism of the SEALS, or the judgement of their superiors.

Some days you get the bear; some days the bear gets you.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"They reportedly could see their man, Ikrima, through the window of one of the buildings, but as more fighters descended on their position and children intermingled through the crowds, they could do nothing to reach him."

"Nothing?" Really? And why is that? Were the missiles turned off because of the Shutdown? Did the helicopter guns jam?

I am becoming more and more isolationist as time goes by.

Read more:
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think I speak for the majority of Americans when I say I will NEVER support a "war" which has primary objectives of gathering yet MORE obviously worthless "intelligence," or avoiding civilian casualties, or paying even an ounce of attention to the political sensibilities of governments that either cannot or will not deal with the terrorists in their midst.

You get a houseful of terrorists shooting back like that, it is time to get the Daisy Cutters out.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Why do I get the feeling that this raid was a spur of the moment thing. Ordered up by Obozo to take the spotlight off his other failings. Since it was a failure, his allies in the media have made it disappear.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If we can capture these people then all well and good, but the moment that the decision to withdraw was made, the B-1 they had loitering should have gone in and put 40,000lbs of ordnance on the area and killed every living thing within a quarter mile of the house. What's that? They didn't have anything overhead to kill the bad guys, so they got away to gloat another day? Splendid. It was Clintonian pusillanimity that caused Black Hawk Down and if this had ended in a debacle it would have been Obama's fault. Personally I'd cheerfully turn Somalia into a radioactive charnel house, but apparently burning out nests of pirates and Islamic brigands is too old hat.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This was supposed to be a Delta Force operation. US troops should NEVER be sent to fight when they cannot win. Too much politics is invol;ved in war these days.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Reports are that Shabaab has moved additional assets into the area for "security"?....
good, now bomb the .... out of them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Folks, nothing new, just a reminder to remember always that whatever we read anywhere about our wartime operations against our Muslim enemy is just scratching at the surface of all of the facts. We simply don't have the background available to us.
We have to accept that unless we're sitting in on these closed door meetings, we simply can't know what's going on.
"Spokesmen" or "...persons" are only saying the absolute minimum.

The august State Department and White House are the last ones to trust in this current "administration".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What's the point of trying to capture these SOBs ? The US does not have a legal jurisdiction over them, nor should the raiders and killers be allowed to use legal process as platform for espousing insane political ideologies. If you want to fight this scourge, you cannot have scruples about killing them. There is no point in trying to capture them. Surely there is a better way to gather intelligence than sending Seals.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Nothing like risking American lives to "send a message to the world." Morons.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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