Airstrike on the African Front

A predawn airstrike was launched against an Al-Qaeda cell a few hundred miles north of Mogadishu, Somalia on Thursday. The strike was believed to have killed Adan Hashi Ayro, leader of al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based terrorist group that was recently designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department.

Reports vary as to the operational details of the attack: speculation about how it was conducted already includes everything from aircraft strikes to an attack with sea-launched cruise missiles. The U.S. Central Command has not released any information beyond “the target was a known Al Qaeda target and a militia leader.”

Few particulars of such missions are ever released within the first 48 hours. Even so, most of the details — platforms, weapons systems, etc. — remain classified. But on Wednesday evening (EDT) when Human Events first learned of the attack – well before the story broke Thursday morning (Somali time) — our sources were telling us that the mission was an airstrike employing joint direct attack munitions (JDAM, pronounced “jay-dam”), essentially a sophisticated guidance system mounted on a general purpose bomb, which transforms that “dumb bomb” into a “smart bomb.”

The probability is high that one or more JDAMs was used in the airstrike but it could also have been a combined attack using airstrikes and cruise-missiles launched from an offshore ship or submarine.

Either way, the attack was apparently successful. Though it may be some time before ground-based American intelligence and special operators can acquire and test DNA samples for proof.

“Infidel planes bombed Dusamareb,” Sheikh Muhktar Ali Robow, an Islamist commander also with al Shabaab, reportedly told Reuters, the AP, and the BBC, hours after the strike. “Two of our important people, including Ayro, were killed.”

Ayro, trained by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan prior to the attacks of 9/11, was leader of al-Shabaab (“the Youth”), the notorious guerilla wing of the Al Qaeda-linked Islamic Courts Union (a Sharia movement in Africa). Others believed to have been killed include Muhyadin Omar (the second “important” person mentioned by Robow), a few Islamist lieutenants, and several low-level militants.

“In dispatching Ayro from this vale of tears, we have removed a significant player in extremist circles in Africa,” says Dr. J. Peter Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University and a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “That impacts not only the region, but the globe.”

Thursday’s attack comes almost two months to the day after the early March U.S. Navy cruise-missile strike in southern Somali that targeted Al Qaeda-trained terrorist leaders Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, Hassan Abdullah Hersi al-Turki, and Ayro: All apparently survived that attack, though several militants were killed.

“Thursday’s attack says quite a bit about our improved capacity to gain access to actionable intelligence and hit our targets,” an intelligence community source tells Human Events. “It also says much about improvements in interagency cooperation. We’re doing everything better from the collection of raw information, to the processing of finished intelligence, to the guy who presses the button.”

Some Africa experts, however, see a possible operational Achilles heel for U.S. forces tasked with future missions in-and-over Somali territory.

“There is a movement within some parts of the U.S. government to extend formal recognition to the current Transitional Federal Government of Somalia” says Pham. “Those pushing for this recognition would do well to carefully weigh the marginal, potential political benefit against very real strategic and operational costs.”

According to Pham, recognizing the “weak” Transitional Federal Government (the 14th such interim entity in Somalia since 1991) would result in its permission being sought by the U.S. government before any operations similar to the one conducted Thursday could be launched. “Such a scenario could well-jeopardize operational security,” he says, referring to probable leaks of planned operations, thereby thwarting them. “A government, by definition, ought to exercise control over its territory; if it cannot do that, it is a hindrance rather than a partner in the fight against extremism.”

As we’ve previously reported, Africa’s resources and vast “ungoverned spaces” — like Somalia and other lawless and unstable areas of the Sahara Desert and the Sahel Belt — have been virtual breeding grounds for radical Islam. Thus Africa is not only a current critical front for American forces in the global war on terror, but will remain so for decades. And as intelligence improves – as it has over the past several months — sources tell us we will be seeing more similarly successful operations “on the Horn” and deeper into the continent.