Navy SEALs Somalia Assault Raises Strategic Questions

    October 6, 2013

Yesterday, Navy SEAL Team Six raided an al-Shabaab HQ in Barawe, Somalia. Although none of the SEALs were killed in the assault, a series of conflicting reports about the raid’s target were released, some of which claiming the individual was captured while others were claiming he died in the firefight. The raid was aborted as a failure.

Despite conflicting reports, the SEAL team leader decided that the fighting was too hot, and after 20 minutes of gunfire, the SEAL team swam away. Somali intelligence officials have claimed, according to CBS News, that the SEAL team was targeting the leader of the al-Shabaab Islamist faction in Somalia, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr AKA Ahmed Godane; however, an al-Shabaab official by the name of Sheikh Abdiaziz Abu Musab said via audio message that the raid had failed in its goal.

The strike in Somalia by Navy SEAL Team Six was a part of a coordinated response to the Nairobi Westgate Mall attacks. The failed raid was part of a two-pronged response, with the second staged in Libya just hours after SEAL Team Six pulled out. The Libyan strike was targeting an al Qaeda leader associated with the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

The Libyan raid, unlike the Somali one, was considered a huge success. Navy SEAL teams surrounded a house in Tripoli containing Anu Abas al-Liby, the al-Qaeda leader who claimed responsibility for the Embassy bombings. Liby had previously been indicted for his role in the bombings.

The CS Monitor noted an interesting dichotomy: until recently, the Obama administration’s primary method of fighting terror abroad was authorized drone strikes. Having conducted hundreds of drone strikes during his presidency, Obama sought to decrease their frequency. Whereas 2010 saw 117 drone strikes in Pakistan alone, this year has seen only 46 Pakistani strikes while Yemen only endured 10 strikes this year. With these recent Navy SEAL raids, is the Obama administration changing tactics in the War on Terror?

Obama recently acknowledged the deep resentment felt by the international community with regard to U.S. drone policy: “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance,” Obama said in a speech at the National Defense University. “For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power – or risk abusing it.”

[Image via a KTN YouTube news report of the raids]