U.S. Gunship fires on al Qaeda Leader and Operative in Somalia
An AC-130 fires on wanted al Qaeda leader and a ringeader of the 1998 U.S. Embasy bombings in Kenya & Tanzania
The United States forces of Combine Joint Task Force Horn of Africa based out of Djibouti have actively weighed in on the fighting in Somalia. CBS News reports an AC-130 gunship has struck at al Qaeda's command cell in Somalia. The targets were described as "the senior al Qaeda leader in East Africa and an al Qaeda operative wanted for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa." Abu Taha al-Sudani (or Tariq Abdullah) is al Qaeda's leader in East Africa, and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan are the two wanted operatives in the embassy bombings. Fazul is al Qaeda's operations chief for East Africa, while al-Sudani is the chief strategist and ideologue.
CBS News explains the two targets were hit while on the run. "Once they started moving, the al Qaeda operatives became easier to track, and the U.S. military started preparing for an air strike, using unmanned aerial drones to keep them under surveillance and moving the aircraft carrier Eisenhower out of the Persian Gulf toward Somalia. But when the order was given, the mission was assigned to the AC-130 gunship operated by the U.S. Special Operations command."
While not explicitly stated, the report indicates the likelihood is high that there are indeed U.S. Special Forces on the ground. An American intelligence source informs us U.S. Special Forces and CIA paramilitary teams are directly embedded with Ethiopian forces in Somalia. Also, either the Predator UAVs used to track the al Qaeda leader and operatives either were not versions armed with Hellfire missiles, or the terrorists were moving in a convoy large enough that the individual vehicles could not be identified, the Predators did not possess enough weapons to destroy the entire convoy and the AC-130 was brought in to sweep the entire formation. The moving of the Eisenhower carrier group from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Somalia indicates further, prolonged operations may be in the plans, perhaps even air support for the assault on Ras Kamboni. Somalia has become an active front for the U.S. in the Long War.
An American intelligence source will not confirm or deny that al-Sudani and either Mohammed or Nabhan were killed, but will only state that "operations are ongoing."
The U.S. or Somali and Ethiopian forces will want to quickly secure the attack site to obtain DNA and other forensic evidence to confirm the identity of those killed in the attack. And the site will be scoured for documents, computer drives and other information leading to information on al Qaeda's organization in the Horn of Africa. As an American military officer who served in Iraq noted in a conversation earlier today about taking out al Qaeda's leadership in western Anbar during 2005, al Qaeda leaders often carry important information while on the run. The information in these raids invariably led to follow-up operations, and ultimately led to the location of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The strike agains the East African al Qaeda leadership occurred in the southern tip of Somalia, where Ethiopian and Somali forces are pressing the offensive on the Islamic Courts and al Qaeda base in Ras Kamboni and along the Kenyan border in Lower Jubba region. Heavy fighting has been reported in the vicinity of Ras Kamboni as the Ethiopians and Somali forces prepare the final assault.
The removal of al-Sudani and either Mohammed or Nabhan would be a major victory for U.S. forces based in East Africa. al Qaeda would be forced to regenerate its senior leadership in the region, and would be concerned its existing networks are now compromised.
See The Rise & Fall of Somalia's Islamic Courts: An Online History for additional information on Somalia.