US Attack in Somalia A Strike against Al-Qaida's Hornet's Nest

In heavy air strikes, the United States attacked suspected al-Qaida hideouts in Somalia on Tuesday. Among the suspected dead are the regional leaders of the terror group thought to be responsible for the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.


The hunt for al-Qaida in Somalia: The US used a C-130 in the air strikes.
AP/ USAF

The hunt for al-Qaida in Somalia: The US used a C-130 in the air strikes.

In air strikes carried out on Monday and Tuesday, the United States sought to take out key leaders of terrorist organization al-Qaida's operations in eastern Africa. The attacks, carried out by a US Air Force AC-130 gunship plane, hit targets in southern Somalia, near the Kenyan border.

"The strike was carried out after it had been confirmed that al-Qaida members are hiding in the area," said Abdirahman Dinari, a spokesman for the Somali government, which had provided intelligence to the United States. The Ethiopian and Kenyan secret services as well as the CIA all contributed intelligence that aided in the attacks, the Washington Post reported.

The operation is reported to have resulted in numerous casualties. Somalian government representatives said there were at least 30 deaths. And if the mission was as successful as US sources and Somali officials believe, then the victims could have included two long-sought terrorists. One is Abu Talha al-Sudani, who has lived in the country since marrying a Somalian woman in 1993. In a 2001 court case against Osama bin Laden, Sudani was described as an explosives expert with a close relationship to the terror leader.

Another is Fazul Abdullah Mohammad, who is suspected of helping to coordinate the al-Qaida-linked 1998 terror attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 220 people. For his part, Sudani had been considered the possible financier of the embassy attacks.

The Washington Post reported recently that US intelligence officials had identified Sudani as a close associate of Gouled Hassan Dourad, head of a Mogadishu-based Somalian Islamist network that has provided support for al-Qaida. Today, Dourad is being held at Guantanamo Bay as one of the 14 "high value" prisoners taken to the facility from CIA "black sites" in September.

One of America's worst traumas

With this week's air strike, the US made its first foray into Somalia since 1993 -- the year a US peacekeeping mission in the country failed in the face of heavy local resistance. Eighteen US soldiers lost their lives in heavy fighting. Then-US President Bill Clinton withdrew his troops in March 1994 in a move that was seen by al-Qaida and local militias as a triumph over the global superpower.

The failure is still considered a major trauma in the US Army's history. The bodies of several dead American soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

Still, the current air strike in no way suggests that the US is considering a ground offensive in the country. "You had some figures on the move in a relatively unpopulated part of the country," an anonymous US source told the Washington Post. "(The operation) was a confluence of information and circumstances." In other words: The air strike is really a prime example of the implementation of the US doctrine adopted after Sept. 11, 2001, to attack and kill terrorists, wherever they may be.

Rather than being perceived as the US getting involved in Somalia's domestic disputes, Tuesday's strike should be viewed as a battle in the "war against international terror." It's similar to the killing of an al-Qaida operative in Jemen using a drone in 2003 or the attempt to wipe out bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri in January 2006 at his suspected hidout -- also using a drone.

Al-Qaida's Africa plans

Nevertheless, there is a connection with the latest developments in the bitterly poor country. Over the New Year, Somali government troops working together with Ethiopian soldiers were finally able to drive out Islamic militias who had succeeded in seizing power in large parts of the country. Fears had been growing that terrorists who had worked together with the militias might flee the country and find refuge elsewhere. But by driving the militias out, the forces actually made it easier to track al-Qaida operatives.

Al-Qaida has prospered in eastern Africa, especially Somalia. Osama bin Laden even lived there at one point. Recently, Zawahiri even claimed he would make Somalia a target. Since the government of President Siad Barre fell in 1991, Somalia has lacked a functioning government and the resulting power vacuum has made the country attractive to terrorist groups.

That attractiveness is underscored by a recent strategy paper written by terrorism supporter Abu Azzam al-Ansari that explores the opportunities for the mujahedeen in Africa. Israeli terror expert Reuven Paz recently analyzed and released the document.

Among other claims made in the document is that "Africa is a goldmine that hasn't been exploited yet by al-Qaida." There are opportunities for the network across the continent: In poor areas, the mujahedeen could generate support by conducting charity work, crises and conflicts make it easier to cross borders undetected and weapons can be obtained everywhere. The essay gave special emphasis to opportuntities in Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Mauritania, Marocco, Libya and Chad.

Terror researcher Paz also warned of a scenario in which al-Qaida join forces with pirates in the region and begin to engage in maritime terrorism. Germany's Navy is among the forces patrolling the Horn of Africa in order to ensure this doesn't happen.

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