The US reportedly targeted Ahmed Abdi Godane in a military strike on Somalia overnight, but the Pentagon has kept a tight seal on the operation other than to acknowledge that one took place. Godane runs al-Shabaab, the Somalian radical Islamist terror network that took credit for the massacre in a Kenyan mall a year ago, and Godane is widely believed to have run that operation:
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said in a statement late Monday only that “we are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate.” Godane has served as the group’s leader since a U.S. airstrike killed his predecessor Aden Hashi Ayro in 2008. In October, U.S. commandos launched raids in Somalia seeking to capture Godane, who is also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr. Reuters reported that Godane’s close associate, Ahmed Mohamed Amey, was killed by a U.S. airstrike in January. In an online audio message following the Westgate Mall massacre, Godane said Kenya should be “prepared for an abundance of blood that will be spilt in your country.”
The Somalian embassy in Washington DC appears to have confirmed Godane’s death (via Twitchy):
Our Alliance has succeeded killing jihadi Ahmed Abdi Godane leader of Somalia's al Qaeda-linked militants and other seven senior members.
— Somali Embassy USA (@SomaliEmbassyUS) September 2, 2014
According to local reports, Godane may not have been the only target. The strike came during a meeting of al-Shabaab commanders:
An air strike by U.S. military forces struck an area where leaders of Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked militants were meeting, intelligence sources said on Tuesday, but it was unclear whether any insurgent commanders were killed.
The strike prompted rumours among Somali government officials that it had targeted al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane and other leaders who were suspected to have been at the location, but there was no confirmation they were hit.
If he were killed, it would be a major victory against the group.
If the strike took out more leaders than just Godane, it could cripple al-Shabaab for at least some period of time. It also suggests that the intel on the ground is improving in Somalia. The US has conducted two military operations since the massacre, killing a senior al-Shabaab commander in January, Ahmed Mohamed Amey. The earlier mission, conducted last October, came up empty-handed when special forces encountered a higher level of resistance than expected, as well as the presence of children in the combat zone.
The Telegraph reports that Godane was killed, quoting Somalian government sources:
Somali officials said the first they knew about Monday’s drone attack was when government and African Union forces patrolling in the area heard a series of huge explosions in the Sablale forest area.
The strike came as local al-Shabaab forces were on the back foot from a government offensive aimed at seizing key ports under militant control.
“The Americans carried out a major air strike targeting a gathering by senior Al-Shabaab officials, including their leader Abu-Zubayr,” said Abdukadir Mohamed Nur, governor for southern Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region. “They were meeting to discuss about the current offensive in the region. There were casualties inflicted on the militants, but we don’t have details so far.”
If confirmed as dead, Godane becomes the latest in a long line of al-Shabaab commanders to be killed in US airstrikes. A US missile strike in January killed a high-ranking intelligence officer for the group, while last October one of its top explosives experts died in a hit on a vehicle carrying senior fighters. Godane himself is known to have taken extensive security precautions to avoid being targeted, following the death of one of his predecessors as leader of al-Shabaab, Adan Hashi Ayro, in a US missile strike in 2008.
Godane’s death would be a severe blow for the group, which has lost much of its terrority in Somalia in the last two years as a result of successful offensives by Somalia’s US and UN-backed government. From having once controlled much of the capital, Mogadishu, it is now confined mainly to isolated rural areas, although it still launches numerous hit-and-run attacks.
The AP reports that six were killed in the strike, but I’d assume that number will go higher if the description in the Telegraph is accurate. We’ll see if Godane was among them.