It is still not possible to be sure just what the outcome is of a U.S. airstrike in southern Somalia last week against alleged al-Qaida terrorists. But the strike is the sort of thing we would have expected to hear about happening more often if the “war on terror” were a serious effort to disrupt al-Qaida and other terrorists who operate internationally.
The airstrike came in the aftermath of the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia — invited by the quasi-legitimate Western-backed government — that ousted Islamists in late December from the capital of Mogadishu, which they had controlled since last summer. As the Islamists fled the country, several suspected al-Qaida members and leaders were spotted in armed pickup trucks headed for the border with Kenya.
Among those suspected to be in the group was Abu Talha al-Sudani, said to be an associate of Osama bin Laden and the leader of an al-Qaida cell in East Africa who also was one of the financiers behind the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
So a U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship attacked the convoy. Most news reports suggest a dozen people dead; some say as many as 50 civilians were also killed. We don’t know if al-Sudani was killed.
Whatever the outcome of this raid, this is the kind of attack that should be expected in a serious campaign against al-Qaida and those affiliated with or inspired by al-Qaida. It is certainly possible that a few pinpoint attacks have occurred that haven’t been publicized. But we haven’t heard about a similar attack (besides a couple of airstrikes that fizzled or happened after al-Qaida suspects had left in Afghanistan and Pakistan) since a predator drone demolished a Jeep in Yemen that was supposedly carrying a top al-Qaida leader a couple of years ago.
Unfortunately, the real struggle with international terrorists has been sidetracked by the war in Iraq. Some international terrorists have been drawn in and killed there, but it is likely that several terrorists and/or sympathizers have been created for every terrorist killed in Iraq.
The attack in Somalia suggests that the U.S. is still able to take advantage of opportunities such as al-Qaida and other jihadists fleeing Mogadishu. The question is whether our intelligence capabilities have been improved enough that the U.S. will even see such opportunities as they develop. If the current “surge” in U.S. troops in Iraq really leads to eventual drawdown and substantial disengagement, perhaps more actions that directly undermine al-Qaida and other jihadists will assume the priority they deserve.