Drones evidently do not observe the Labor Day holiday, as one of them reported zeroed in on the leader of the al-Shabaab terrorist organization Monday. Fox News reports:
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby provided few details about the nature of the operation, the results of which he said were being assessed.
“We are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate,” he said in a statement. There was no immediate comment from al-Shabaab.
A senior Somali official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that a U.S. drone targeted al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane as he left a meeting of the group’s top leaders. The official told AP that intelligence indicated Godane “might have been killed along with other militants.”
Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, is the group’s spiritual leader under whose direction the Somali militants forged an alliance with Al Qaeda.
The official said that the strike took place in a forest near Sablale district, 105 miles south of Mogadishu, where the group trains its fighters. The governor of Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, Abdiqadir Mohamed Nor, told The Associated Press that as government and African Union forces were heading to a town in Sablale district, they heard something that sounded like an “earthquake” as drones struck al-Shabaab bases.
The drones hit hard enough to make people think it was an earthquake? Nice.
It’s never a bad time to blow up someone affiliated with al-Qaeda, but the timing of this particular strike is interesting:
A U.S. missile strike in January killed a high-ranking intelligence officer for al-Shabab, and 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.
The U.S. action comes after Somalia’s government forces regained control of a high security prison in the capital that was attacked Sunday by seven heavily armed suspected Islamic militants who attempted to free other extremists held there. The Pentagon statement did not indicate whether the U.S. action was related to the prison attack.
Somali officials said all attackers, three government soldiers and two civilians were killed. Mogadishu’s Godka Jilacow prison is an interrogation center for Somalia’s intelligence agency, and many suspected militants are believed to be held in underground cells there.
The Somali rebel group al-Shabaab, which is linked to Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack that shattered a period of calm in Mogadishu after two decades of chaotic violence. The attack started when a suicide car bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at the gate of the prison, followed by gunmen who fought their way into the prison.
It was al-Shabaab gunmen who attacked the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, with guns and grenades last September, killing at least 67 people. Al-Shabaab had threatened retaliation against Kenya for sending troops into Somalia against the extremists. Godane said the attack was carried out in retaliation for the West’s support for Kenya’s Somalia invasion and the “interest of their oil companies.”
So it might have been a pre-emptive strike designed to behead al-Shabaab (to use a metaphor al-Qaeda types are comfortable with) before they could wreak any more havok, and/or retaliation for the Nairobi mall atrocity. The Somali government has also been making progress against al-Shabaab strongholds in the south, so perhaps when good intel on Godane was developed, the Pentagon decided this would be a good moment to rub him out and leave his organization stunned. He definitely had it coming, as a profile in the UK Telegraph makes clear:
Under his leadership, during which more moderate rivals have been either killed or sidelined, al-Shabaab has become one of the most brutal militant groups in the world, with stonings and amputations for anyone who defies Godane’s edicts banning music, dancing and even watching football.
It has also advertised Somalia as a base from which to wage global jihad, with Godane using his background in finance and airlines to help recruit hundreds of foreign fighters into the group’s ranks.
However, even its own volunteers faced the group’s wrath if they tried to leave, according to two disaffected ex-Shabaab fighters interviewed for a Panorama documentary to be broadcast on BBC One on Monday night.
The pair, both teenagers from neighbouring Kenya, told how they were horrified to discover that despite Al-Shabaab’s professed moral piety, its foot soldiers raped and pillaged as much as any other Somali militia. One claimed he saw children as young as five being trained in how to wear suicide vests.
Both teenagers eventually escaped, but hundreds of other volunteers from around the world − including Somalis from Britain − are thought still to be swelling Godane’s ranks.
Which might give us another clue as to why Godane became an important target: recruiting efforts for the al-Qaeda network have been doing far too well lately. At least one of the two Americans known to have died fighting for ISIS in Syria, Abdirahmaan Muhamed, was brought into the group through al-Shabaab’s “outreach” to the Somali community in Minneapolis. The other one, Douglas McCain, attended high school in Minneapolis, where he was inseparable best friends with Troy Kastigar, who was recruited by al-Shabaab and died fighting for them in Somalia in 2009. America has an al-Shabaab problem, and it’s part of our ISIS problem. Greasing their leadership is a good strategic move for a variety of reasons.