The killing of an accused senior Al Qaeda militant in Somalia
yesterday could help to sever Al Qaeda's link to militants taking
refuge in Somalia. But it could also stir up more unrest in a
country that is already fighting a low-level civil war, pushing
Islamist militants toward retaliation against what they perceive to
be American targets, including the weak, Western-backed Somalian
US commandos killed Kenyan national Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in a
helicopter raid against Mr. Nabhan's convoy, as it traveled through
the Barawe district in southern Somalia. Nabhan has been on the US
wanted list since 1996, when he was accused of helping to bomb the
US embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania, and is thought to be the
mastermind in a truck-bomb attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in
Mombasa in 2002.
There are no reports yet indicating whether the helicopter attack
caused civilian casualties, but Islamist militias in Somalia allied
with Al Qaeda have vowed to retaliate.
"Muslims will retaliate against this unprovoked attack," a leader
of Al Shabab, a Somali Islamist militia told the AFP news agency
today. "The United States is Islam's known enemy, and we will never
expect mercy from them, nor should they expect mercy from us."
Obama's first Somalia strike
Yesterday's airstrike may not be the first for the US in Somalia,
but it is the first major strike against a terrorist target under
President Obama, and, despite campaign promises to try a different,
more nuanced approach to the war against terrorists, this had all
the hallmarks of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Security analysts suggest that Nabhan was a high-enough target
within the Al Qaeda organization that his elimination could
seriously disrupt the command structure of Al Qaeda in Somalia. But
experts on the Horn of Africa say that this very success could
complicate the goal of strengthening a democratic government in
"There is serious talk that if you take out one of the three top
Al Qaeda leaders, you cut off the logistical chain on the ground, so
in that sense it may be seen as a success," says Paula Roque, a Horn
of Africa expert at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane
[Pretoria], South Africa. But to complete the job would require
military strike after military strike, she adds, which would have
the unintended effect of making Somalia's supposed leader, President
Sharif Ahmed, look weak.
"If this was done with the authority given by the transitional
government, for their sovereignty of Somalia to be infringed by
foreign forces, then this will reinforce the impression that Sharif
is a puppet," says Ms. Roque.
Somalia: Terrorist haven?
The attack on Nabhan comes at a time of increasing reports that
Somalia, despite the West's efforts, may be becoming a safe haven
for terrorists. …