This wasn’t the first try on al-Shabaab’s command structure. A raid in October, shortly after the Somalian al-Qaeda affiliate’s terror attack on a Nairobi mall, netted a significant capture but stopped short of its goal when too many children appeared to be in the line of fire. This time, a missile strike rather than a raid took care of business:

A U.S. missile strike in southern Somalia on Sunday killed a senior al Shabaab commander who had masterminded suicide attacks by the al Qaeda-linked militant group, two Somali security officials said.

Both intelligence sources and a Somali government spokesman named the target on Monday as Ahmed Mohamed Amey, a chemicals expert also known as Isku Dhuuq.

A U.S. official on Sunday said the missile strike occurred in a remote area near Barawe, a coastal rebel enclave that was the site of a failed raid by American commandos in October targeting a militant known as Ikrima. It was not clear if the missile was launched from a drone.

The security sources said Amey was close to al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, who since taking charge in 2008 has restyled the group as a global player in the al Qaeda franchise – a transformation that was highlighted when it killed at least 67 people in an attack on a Kenyan shopping mall in September.

This took place last night, and CNN reported on it before the strike assessment was completed:

Last October, the elite U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six aborted a pre-dawn raid in southern Somalia to capture Al-Shabaab leader Ikrima after an intense firefight prevented them from reliably taking him alive, a senior U.S. official told CNN at the time.

In a second raid that same weekend, members of the U.S. Army Delta Force captured Abu Anas al Libi, an al Qaeda operative wanted for his alleged role in the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, during an operation in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

The U.S. military official said Sunday’s strike involved missiles. No U.S. troops were on the ground.

Note at the end of the report, when the CNN anchor notes this about al-Qaeda: “Very very interesting. Local affiliates, growing their tentacles, and the US trying to stop it.” That is a reference to the oft-repeated message from the White House that “core al-Qaeda” has been all but defeated, and the affiliate networks are nothing but the “jayvees.” The two attempts to take out the al-Shabaab leadership seems to dispute that characterization, as does the attack on the Nairobi mall. This is a group that had metastasized into an international threat after years of focusing on Somalia and its civil war.

Can the US keep that metastasis from continuing through occasional surgical strikes such as these? We’ll have to try that now in Libya, thanks to Western intervention that turned the country into a failed state, but the French rescue of Mali shows that surgical strikes alone won’t stop them. It might succeed temporarily in Somalia, where their attention had been more inward than outward until recently. However, it’s not going to keep the “jayvees” from getting promoted to the varsity, and the risks are increasing rather than decreasing. We had better decide whether stability is worth pursuing in battlegrounds like Syria and Libya (where it’s too late) rather than pushing for change without any way to shape the battleground when it comes.