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