Al-Shabaab Leader “Likely” Killed in US OperationSeptember 3, 2014 in Somalia
The United States military on Tuesday confirmed that it carried out air strikes in Somalia, which targeted the leader of al-Shabaab.
On Wednesday, a US security source reported that the death of the leader of al-Shabaab in a US air strike carried out Monday night is a “very strong probability,” however still unconfirmed. According to the source, “there is a very strong probability that he is dead…. This requires verification on the ground, which is not simple.” A senior Somali security official has echoed this comment, stating “we believe that the Shabaab leader is dead, though we don’t have his body. Most probably he is dead.” The source further indicated that he believes that al-Shabaab is currently “talking about a successor” however Somali security officials are “…still assessing the situation.”
On Tuesday, officials at the Pentagon confirmed the operation, which was carried out by US Special Forces using manned and unmanned aircraft, however they noted that it remained unclear whether al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane was hit. Abdukadir Mohamed Nur, governor of southern Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region confirmed, “the Americans carried out a major air strike targeting a gathering by senior al-Shabaab officials, including their leader….” According to Mr Nur, although al-Shabaab fighters had largely fled the area in the face of the AMISOM offensive that began Friday, the US airstrikes targeted al-Shabaab commanders as they gathered for a meeting “…to discuss the current offensive in the region.” A spokesman for al-Shabaab has disclosed that Godane was in one of two vehicles hit by the US military strikes. While the spokesman confirmed that six of the group’s fighters were killed in the attack, which occurred 240 km (150 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu, he did not confirm whether Godane was among those killed. According to Abu Mohammed, the group’s leader had been travelling in the convoy, which was on its way to the costal town of Barawe, however he has refused to confirm whether Godane was among the victims.
On Monday, local citizens reported hearing three loud explosions and seeing black smoke rise from the area of the attack. Others have reported that there was a brief exchange of fire that occurred immediately after the explosions took place. Local residents also reported that shortly after the US strikes, a number of masked Islamic militants arrested dozens of people who they suspected of spying for the US, and searched a number of nearby homes.
Monday’s attack came just hours after a senior US army commander visited Mogadishu, where he held talks with Somali military chiefs. It also comes at a time when African Union (AU) troops and Somali government forces have launched new operations to push al-Shabaab out of the remaining areas they control. Sources have indicated that the troops are now closing in on the coastal city of Barawe, which has been the main stronghold of al-Shabaab since they were driven out of Kismayo in 2012. The US strikes also come just one day after al-Shabaab attacked a detention centre in Mogadishu in an apparent effort to free other militants detained there.
If Godane has been killed, his death will likely deal a significant blow to the militant group. According to Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, Godane has no heir apparent and his death would be a “significant blow” to al-Shabaab’s organization and abilities. Some however believe that Godane’s death could also lead to a complete shift in the group’s ideology, noting that they may abandon its association al-Qaeda and align itself with another terrorist group in a bid to garner more international attention. While last September, al-Shabaab gained international notoriety after its militants attacked the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 67 people, in recent months, the militant group’s activities have largely been overshadowed by those carried out by Nigeria’s Boko Haram and the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq. With the death of Godane, some commanders may look towards putting in place a new leader that will garner momentum and international attention for the militant group. There are also reports of a rift within al-Shabaab over which global terror group to align with. Godane’s death, if confirmed, could lead to further splits within the group.
Godane, 37, was reportedly trained in Afghanistan with the Taliban and took over the leadership of al-Shabaab in 2008 after then chief Adan Hashi Ayro was killed by a US missile attack. Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has recognized Godane as the head of the “mujahedeen” in East Africa, however letters released after Osama Bin Laden’s death have indicated that the Islamist leader had a lower regard for al-Shabaab’s capabilities. Godane is one of the US State Department’s most wanted men, with a US $7 million (£4.2 million) reward for his capture.
In recent years, the US has carried out a number of air strikes in Somalia, targeting those areas controlled by the militant group. In January, a missile strike killed a high-ranking intelligence officer for al-Shabaab while last October, a vehicle carrying senior members of the group was hit in a US attack that killed al-Shabaab’s top explosives expert.