The US military announced that it targeted Abdullahi Haji Da’ud, a top military commander and planner for Shabaab, or al Qaeda’s official branch in East Africa, in an airstrike late last month. It is unclear if Da’ud was killed in the strike.
“We are currently assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in an official statement. The airstrike took place in “south-central Somalia” on May 27.
Cook described Da’ud as a “a senior military commander,” one of Shabaab’s “most senior military planners,” and “a principal coordinator” of attacks in Somalia and the neighboring countries of Kenya and Uganda. Additionally, Da’ud previously served as the chief of the Amniyat, a key security and intelligence organization within Shabaab.
If Da’ud is confirmed to have been killed, his death may “disrupt near-term attack planning, potentially saving many innocent lives,” Cook stated. Previous Department of Defense press releases have had a more upbeat tone when announcing the death of top Shabaab leaders. US defense officials routinely stated that the removal of leaders of the Amniyat would deal a “significant blow” to the group.
Leaders and members of the Amniyat have been the focus of multiple US airstrikes. Over the past two years, the US killed the previous two leaders of the Amniyat. The Amniyat is instrumental in executing suicide attacks inside Somalia as well as in Kenya and other African nations, conducting assassinations, providing logistics and support for operations, and integrating the group’s local and regional commands. Additionally, the Amniyat has ben instrumental in suppressing internal dissent within Shabaab as well as challenges to its primacy in Somalia from the Islamic State.
The US killed the last leader of the Amniyat, Yusuf Dheeq, on Feb. 3, 2015, and also killed his predecessor, Tahlil Abdishakur, on Dec. 29, 2014. Additionally, the US military targeted Hassan Ali Dhoore, a dual hatted al Qaeda and Shabaab commander who served in the Amniyat, on March 31, 2016. Dhoore’s status is currently unknown.
The US also killed Ahmed Godane, the co-founder of Shabaab and its former emir, in an airstrike on Sept. 1, 2014.
The US government has followed the same strategy in Somalia – supporting a weak local government while targeting top jihadist leaders and commanders – as it has in Yemen. President Obama previously described this strategy as “one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”
However, security has deteriorated in both Yemen and Somalia over the past several years. In Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took over large areas on the southern coast, including three provincial capitals, beginning in April 2015 despite losing some of its top leaders including its emir Nasir al Wuhayshi in drone strikes. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula retreated from some cities only after military forces from the United Arab Emirates intervened, but still controls large areas in the south.
In Somalia, Shabaab has been waging an effective insurgency in the south despite the fact that the US began targeting its leadership beginning in late 2006. The deaths of Godane, Dheeq, Abdishakur, and a number of senior al Qaeda and Shabaab leaders at the hands of the US has done little to disrupt Shabaab’s growing insurgency or its command or control. More recently, Shabaab has gone on the offensive and regained control of several towns and villages in southern Somalia which were lost over the past several years.