US special operations forces raid Shabaab in southern Somalia

Just days after the US military struck a Shabaab training camp north of Mogadishu, special operations forces and Somali troops launched a raid near the Somali capital overnight. Details are scarce, but Shabaab has reported that one of its fighters was killed in the firefight. Somali officials claimed that 19 Shabaab fighters were killed.

According to Shabaab’s military spokesman Abdulaziz Abu Musab, “foreign forces riding in two helicopters attacked the Awdigle district” of Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region. Giving more detail, he said that the foreign forces “disembarked from the two helicopters at the outskirts of the district and proceeded to the Hisbah Center (Islamic police) and violent clashes occurred around 1 am.” Abu Musab claimed that the jihadists fought off the attackers, but confirmed that one fighter from Shabaab was killed.

While Shabaab’s spokesman did not specify which nationality the “foreign forces” were in the statement, a US official confirmed to AFP on the condition of anonymity that US special operations carried out the raid with the Somali military. The official described the assault as a “partnered raid” with Somali forces, which is another term for a joint-assault. Somali officials also confirmed to AFP that the joint-assault occurred in the Awdigle district, just 30 miles west of Mogadishu.

Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, later told The New York Times that the US forces involved only served in a consultative role. Specifically, he said that “it was their [Somali military] mission. We were acting in an advisory role.” It is unclear if the US soldiers left the helicopters and engaged Shabaab during the firefight. The American troops did not “go all the way to the objective,” Davis continued.

The involvement of US special operations forces in the Awdigle raid and the heavy resistance put up by Shabaab indicates that the objective was to capture a high value target. The US military typically launches drone and conventional airstrikes against Shabaab leaders and commanders when it wants to kill them.

The US military has launched similar air assaults in the past. In 2013, Shabaab said it “repelled” a nighttime raid by US special operations in Barawe. US officials later confirmed that US Navy SEALs carried out the operation to capture a “high-level Shabaab operative,” but the operation was not successful. [See LWJ report, Shabaab claims it ‘repelled’ raid by Western special operations forces.]

In one of the most high-profile raids in Somalia, US special operations forces killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in Barawe in September 2009. Nabhan was one of the most sought out al Qaeda operatives in Africa. He was wanted for involvement in al Qaeda’s 1998 suicide attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Before he was killed, he served as a top leader in both Shabaab and Al Qaeda East Africa, and also was instrumental in facilitating the official merger between al Qaeda and Shabaab. Shabaab has named a military “brigade” after Nabhan.

French special operations forces have also carried out operations inside Somalia. In January 2013, French commandos launched a failed raid in the town of Bula Marer to free a French intelligence official who was captured by Shabaab in 2009. Shabaab fighters repelled the attack and captured a French commando, who later died in custody. Shabaab released photographs of the captured soldier and weapons and gear seized during the raid, and then executed the French intelligence official.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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