After Botched U.S. Raid, Somalis Fear Looming War With Al-Shabab

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Farah Abdi Warsameh / AP

Hundreds of newly trained al-Shabab fighters perform military exercises in the Lafofe area, south of Mogadishu, Somalia, Feb. 17, 2011.

On Oct. 5, the same day the U.S. whisked leading al-Qaeda operative, Anas al-Liby, from his home in the Libyan capital to a suspected holding cell aboard a ship in the Mediterranean, it tried a similarly audacious operation in Somalia. Unfortunately for the Pentagon, the second raid, aimed at a suspected leader of al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in southern Somalia, did not succeed. The target of the strike, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a Kenyan al-Shabab fighter better known by his nom de guerre Ikrima, managed to escape a covert, amphibian American assault on his hideout in the seaside town of Baraawe. A firefight between U.S. Navy SEALs and al-Shabab fighters led to at least two al-Shabab deaths—one a Sudanese national and another of Somali-Swedish extraction, according to Omar Jamal, the First Secretary of the Somali mission to the UN. The operation was celebrated by some in the capital Mogadishu. ”The raid has been a huge boost for the morale of our troops and will show al-Shabab that we are closely watching them and there is no place they can hide,” says Omar Osman, a spokesman of the Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud.

(MORE: How the U.S. raid on Tripoli deepens Libya’s sense of crisis.)

But others in the same government are less cheery. “It is the leadership that matters, fighters are killed every day,” Jamal told TIME. “This botched raid will boost the morale and embolden al-Shabab to further their terror activities.” Al-Shabab has been in the international headlines following last month’s grisly terror attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, for which it claimed responsibility. Following the U.S. raid, Abdi Aynte, director of the Heritage Institute, the first think tank in Somalia, told TIME if no leaders were taken this would be “the icing on the cake for al-Shabab as they have now rebuffed the global super power and the same SEALs who took out Osama Bin Laden.” It’s a significant statement of their prowess, not least because, before the events of recent weeks, the group was considered to be a faction in retreat and disarray. “They will be using this as a victory and selling it everywhere,” Jabril Abdulle, co-director of the Centre for Research and Dialogue, told TIME from his office in Mogadishu. “It is great propaganda for them.”

Aware of the deepening ties between al-Qaeda and some of the radical Islamist militias operating in the Horn of Africa, the US has in recent years aided, funded and joined the fight against jihadists in the region. The US has actively trained local anti-terrorism battalions, including those within the Ethiopian and Somali armies and the latter’s elite force, known as the Alpha Group. The US has also supported AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping force fighting against al-Shabab in Somalia, which is largely responsible for ousting the group from Mogadishu and the southern port city of Kismayo in a 2011-2 military campaign. According to Kevin Kilcullen, a counter insurgency expert and author of Out of the Mountains, a study of urban guerrillas around the world, the US has employed the most effective strategy for tackling terrorism in the region. “It is much better to use local forces on the ground than to rely on US troops like we have ineffectively done in Afghanistan and other places,” Kilcullen told TIME. “Then, when AMISOM pushes al-Shabab out of the cities, the US can prepare for strikes on its leaders.”

The US is known to have drone bases in Djibouti and in Ethiopia, both allies in Washington’s war against radical Islamist militancy in the region. Somalia expert Matt Bryden, the former head of the UN Monitoring group in the country, says that “while the Westgate attack might have influenced the timing of the Baraawe raid and the precise target, the raid in itself is illustrative of a sustained U.S. commitment, not a change in posture of tactics.” But, Bryden says, the US and its allies need to contend with an evolving danger. It is believed the Kenyan terrorist group al-Hijira was involved in the Nairobi mall attack, which shows the terror threat has moved beyond one embattled extremist group in Somalia to “a transitional network of interlinked groups.” Bryden also argues that the botched raid will have little long lasting impact. ”If anything, it may lull Al-Shabab leaders into a sense of complacency, given that several of their key leaders have been targeted by Western military strikes,” he says, referring to a January French attack on al-Shabab that led to a French commando’s capture and execution.

(MORE: Terror in Nairobi—behind Kenya’s war with al-Shabab.)

Despite the concerns this raid will have only boosted al-Shabab’s morale, residents from Baraawe told this reporter, that al-Shabab are seriously shaken up by the attack. “It is obvious that the Islamists are terrified,” one man in his forties told TIME over the phone from Baraawe, speaking on condition of anonymity because the town is still controlled by al-Shabab fighters who would execute him for leaking information. “They cannot trust each other now,” he says. “They know they must have informants in their ranks and it’s driving them crazy.” He said that al-Shabab had arrested many people in his neighborhood and taken them away from their homes. Another resident told TIME that al-Shabab was leaving the city every night before dark and coming back in the day time. “They have also told fisherman not to fish after 4pm, and we have been told that if we don’t remove our satellite dishes they will be burned,” says the resident, explaining that al-Shabab fighters do not want the city’s residents to know the details of what happened during the U.S. raid. “It is clear the attack has had some seriously negative effects on them,” he says.

The raid comes at a time when residents in Somalia’s war-ravaged capital say that law and order in Mogadishu has reached its lowest point since the new Somalia Federal Government took over a year ago. Dysfunctional internal politics and a lack of resources have led to a deteriorating security situation. After being ousted from the city, al-Shabab has steadily ramped up its guerrilla strikes, heaping pressure on the fledgling government through small, hit-and-run attacks. “The city is always so tense at the moment,” one shopkeeper told TIME on Monday. “Recently we keep hearing rumors of a big attack; no one knows when or where but we are just waiting for it to happen.” Many analysts note that al-Shabab has lost a great deal of territory since 2011, as well as revenue and public support. But the government has little influence outside of Mogadishu and AMISOM offensive operations have slowed in recent months. “Al-Shabab is trying to regain the initiative and highlight the Somali government’s weaknesses,” says Bryden. “The government has a great deal of heavy lifting to do — especially on the political and security front — if it is to earn respect, support and legitimacy.”

Osman, the president’s spokesman, admits this readily: “We lack the capabilities and face difficulties so we welcome this raid and any other support from the international community against the terrorist forces in Somalia who pose a threat to international security,” he says. The incident at Baraawe, it seems, likely won’t be the last time U.S. special forces are sent in to action in the Horn of Africa.

14 comments
AdeBana
AdeBana

Brava or Baraawe  is the only place in the world that is OK to Genocide. what a dam horror world we live in.

Bravanese poeple are facing genocide from last 24 years not only by al shabab but no one cares. Please stop...

JayneKross
JayneKross

When will this ever end?

We take the war to their back yard.  Then they retaliate.  It is never ending.

The only losers are the civilians on both sides!

RicardoRivera
RicardoRivera

I don't think terrorist need anymore motivation for what they do. Not all missions are successful and we can't ignore that even if the mission failed the message was sent to these terrorist that our reach can even show up on their own back yard. Somalia is not some easy mission and this mission was heavy on surpise so when our Seals lost that the choice was made to retreat and the seals left unharmed.

russjd
russjd

"members of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations literally can run but they can't hide." The Pentagon confirmed Saturday night that U.S. special forces had captured alive Abu Anas al Libi in Tripoli, Libya. Libi, also known as Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, was wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The operation was carried out by the Delta Force, a U.S. official told Fox News on Sunday.

The other Africa operation targeted a commander in Al Shabaab, the militant group in Somalia linked to last month’s Kenya mall attack that killed more than 60 people. The Navy SEALS involved in that raid were members of SEAL Team Six, the same unit that killed in Laden in his Pakistan hideout in 2011, the U.S. official said.

"On October 5, the Department of Defense, acting under military authorities, conducted an operation to apprehend longtime Al Qaeda member Abu Anas al Libi in Libya," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in a statement. "He is currently lawfully detained under the law of war in a secure location outside of Libia. Abu Anas al Libi has been indicted in the Southern District of New York in connection with his alleged role in Al Qaeda's conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and to conduct attacks against U.S. interests worldwide, which included Al Qaeda plots to attack U.S. forces stationed in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Somalia, as well as the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya." Multiple senior U.S. officials told Fox News that Libi is being held on a ship at sea.

konaandekongh
konaandekongh

William, too bad you can't have a face-to-face interview with the Seal team that conducted this operation where you could confront them with your ridiculous accusation that they "botched" the raid. If they had mistakenly attacked the wrong target and killed innocent people that would be a botched raid. Presumably you would be calling it a successful operation had they called in air support and leveled the compound and killed everybody in it. However, they chose not to as their objective was to take Godane alive without causing civilian casualties. Intel is almost never perfect, and until boots are on the ground a full assessment of the battlefield is difficult if not impossible. Though they did not capture their target, they exercised good judgment in responding to the situation on the ground and pulled out without sustaining casualties. That is not a "botched" operation, and for you to characterize it as such is insulting to our men and women in uniform. 

MazzarothDarkman
MazzarothDarkman

The SEALs command should have incorporated Kenya Navy in a more robust operation probably involving a naval blockade of Barawe for a period of at least a month.... 

Openminded1
Openminded1

It appears the problem is always revolving around the so called peaceful people, know as Muslims. The bleeding heart liberals are so naive and soft they fall for their smiles in this country. Even with the worlds unrest and everything that has happened here in the U.S, every murder and act of terrorism these Muslim radicals have caused the Libs still stay do not generalize. You dummys better generalize these morons do not wear name tags with the words I am peacefulmuslim and I am a killer muslim. You have to assume they are all killers.

outgoing123
outgoing123

@Openminded1 "assume all Muslims are killers"????  wow...kill them all, nuke them, just drop an atomic bomb on them... what about the ones living in us? I know, just create concentration camps with some nice ovens....

"open minded"!!!   what an idiot.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@outgoing123 @Openminded1 No the idiot is you, no one said anything about nuking anyone dummy The issue is trust and that they can not be trusted . Their track record dumb ass speaks for it self. You must be the typical bleeding heart liberal or a holy roller either way the ones  living in the U.S. if you want to trust them go right ahead, Remember The Boston Brothers were liked and trusted too. 

Openminded1
Openminded1

@prismus @Openminded1 @outgoing123 You are not real bright are you? You are new to posting on here so I will cut you some slack dummy. My user name number #1 is meant to be Ironic I am a retired 30 police veteran and still carry a gun so once again you are a dummy and your logic is way off or you donot comprehend very well.

prismus
prismus

@Openminded1 @outgoing123 

You are the dumb ass and your username is a sort of an oxymoron. With your logic, we should put all owners of handguns behind bars. What an idiot!