US targets Shabaab's leadership in southern Somalia
The US military is rumored to have targeted Shabaab emir Ahmed Abdi Godane and other senior leaders of al Qaeda's branch in Somalia as they met at a training camp south of the capital. The US military confirmed it conducted an operation in Somalia yesterday.
In a press briefing at the Pentagon today, Kirby confirmed that "US special operations forces using manned and unmanned aircraft destroyed an encampment and a vehicle using several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions." He said the strike targeted Godane and other top Shabaab leaders, but did not state whether Godane was killed or survived the strike. [See Threat Matrix report, US military confirms Shabaab's emir was target of airstrike.]
Somali officials have said that an airstrike, possibly carried out by the remotely piloted Predators or Reapers, hit a training camp between the villages of Dhay Tubako and Haway along the Shabelle River south of Mogadishu.
The governor of Lower Shabeelle told a Somali-language news site that Godane, who is also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, and Shabaab leaders Muhammad Abu Abdallah, the group's shadow governor of Lower Shabelle; Muhammad Abu Sham, Godane's aide; Ali Muhammad Gulled, a logistics officer; Muhammad Husayn Nur (a.k.a. Abu Hamza Al Ayman); Sheikh Muhammad Dulyaden; Iqri Ubayd, a Sudanese operative; and Mubarak Abdallah, a Yemeni, were all present at the camp during the strike.
Shabaab has not released a statement noting the recent death of any senior or mid-level leaders. But the group's intelligence service, known as the Amniyat, is reported to have rounded up 15 people in the area who are suspected of spying on the group for the US. Shabaab has brutally executed US "spies' in the past.
US has targeted top Shabaab and al Qaeda leaders in Somalia before
In the past, the US has targeted top Shabaab leaders in drone and conventional airstrikes, as well as special operations raids.
Most recently, on Jan. 26, the US killed Sahal Iskudhuq, a senior Shabaab commander who served as a high-ranking member of the Amniyat, in an airstrike in Barawe, a known stronghold of Shabaab.
The last confirmed US drone strike in Somalia took place on Oct. 29, 2013. The remotely operated US drones killed Anta Anta, also known as Ibrahim Ali Abdi, and two lower-level commanders. Anta Anta was a master bombmaker and suicide operations coordinator for the terror group.
The US also launched a special operations raid that same month. On Oct. 7, 2013 in Barawe, US Navy SEALs targeted Shabaab's external operations chief Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, who is also known as Ikrima. The Shabaab leader, who was not killed or captured during the raid, was in close contact with al Qaeda's general command in Pakistan and is said to have directed attacks in Kenya. [See Threat Matrix report, Target of SEAL raid in Somalia tied to top al Qaeda leaders.]
The US has launched several operations over the years that targeted or killed top Shabaab and al Qaeda leaders in Somalia. Bilal al Berjawi, a British national of Lebanese descent, was killed in an airstrike in January 2012. Al Berjawi was the senior deputy of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the leader of al Qaeda East Africa who also served as a top commander in Shabaab. Fazul was killed by Somali troops at a checkpoint outside Mogadishu in June 2011.
The US also killed Aden Hashi Ayro and Sheikh Muhyadin Omar in an airstrike in the spring of 2008. Before his death, Ayro was the leader of Shabaab.
Fazul and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who also commanded al Qaeda East Africa, were also targeted, along with Abu Tala al Sudani, in US airstrikes in 2007 and 2008 during the Ethiopian invasion and occupation of southern Somalia. And Hassan Turki, another senior Shabaab leader who is closely tied to al Qaeda, was targeted in a US strike in 2008.
Nabhan was also the target of a US special forces raid in the Somali town of Barawe in 2009. US commandos killed Nabhan and another terrorist during the raid.
Despite a military offensive led by the African Union and backed by the US that began in 2011, Shabaab still controls vast areas of southern and central Somalia. During the offensive, Shabaab was driven from major cities and towns such as Mogadishu, Kismayo, and Baidoa, but towns such as Bulobarde and Barawe remain under the terror group's control. The group has weathered the Ethiopian invasion, which began in December 2006 and ousted its predecessor, the Islamic Courts Union. Nearly eight years later, Shabaab remains a capable force in southern Somalia and an integral part of al Qaeda's global network.
Shabaab has also shown itself to be more than capable of attacking major cities outside of its control. Just this weekend, the group launched a suicide assault on an intelligence headquarters in Mogadishu. Additionally, the group has continued to conduct attacks outside of Somalia. This year Shabaab has carried out several attacks in Kenya as well as a suicide attack against Western soldiers in Djibouti.