When American special operations forces (SOF) operating in Somalia killed a terrorist mastermind this past week, media reports focused on the drama and the bombast.
The drama was palpable. U.S. SOF used helicopters to attack a vehicle carrying Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a notorious al-Qaida-affiliated killer currently aligned with the Somali Islamist militia, Al Shabab. After the copter attack on Nabhan's vehicle, a commando team landed and retrieved his body. This daring raid sounds like the work of U.S. Navy SEALs, but in complex missions in complicated places like the Horn of Africa, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) makes use of elite SOF units from all services.
Indisputable evidence of success or failure in a "shadow war" against terrorists (and particularly in an anarchic region like Somalia) is rare. We have seen vicious terrorists repeatedly tout their mere survival as a victory, and media wedded to an "underdog" narrative template frequently repeat such propaganda without examination. Molecular analysis of Nabhan's corpse becomes an information warfare tool by providing DNA confirmation of his demise.
The subsequent bombast from Al Shabab, however, takes Nabhan's death as a given. Al Shabab told France's AFPA that ?"Muslims will retaliate against this unprovoked attack. ... The United States is Islam's known enemy, and we will never expect mercy from them, nor should they expect mercy from us."
Unprovoked? Nabhan helped organize a terror bombing that killed 15 people at the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002. He also played a role in an attempted shoot-down of an airliner at the Mombasa airport.
Islamist terrorists regard Kenya as a battle zone. In August 1998, they bombed the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. A captured al-Qaida document ("Trip from Nairobi to Cape Kambooni," translated in March 2002) provided a terrorist's assessment of the Kenyan coast. The al-Qaida plotter noted that Mombasa "teems with foreigners who stroll all over the place. It is said? that the American Army soldiers take their R&R there. Mombasa's security situation is terrible."
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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