US covert actions in Somalia

Somalia targeted in US ‘drone war’

US Special Forces can call on Navy assets in the region. Photo,US Department of Defense

A military drone operated by elite US Special Forces has targeted al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia, killing several people. The attack marks the first confirmed hostile use of drones in the east African country.

Bureau research suggests unmanned surveillance craft have been used over Somalia for some time as part of a broader military campaign. In October 2009 a US drone was reportedly shot down over the south of the country. On previous occasions the US has allegedly flown combat missions against Somali targets from a base in eastern Ethiopia.

According to the Washington Post a drone has struck at two leaders of the al-Shabab militant group, declared a terrorist organisation by the US and others. The 23 June attack in Kismayo, southern Somalia – originally reported as a helicopter strike – also killed ‘many’ foreign fighters.

The unnamed leaders are said to have ‘direct ties’ to US-born militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Now based in Yemen, Awlaki has been linked to that country’s al Qaeda movement and to a number of terrorist plots against the US and its allies.

Recent US military actions in Somalia*

January 7 2007 - US gunship attacks militant convoy killing 10

January 22 2007 - Reported JSOC airstrike against militants

June 1 2007 - US cruise missile strike kills up to 10 alleged militants, including reportedly from Eritrea, Yemen, UK, Sweden and US

March 3 2008 - Cruise missile attack from US ships. Six die, though not apparent target.

May 2008 - US naval-launched cruise missiles kill Aden Hashi Ayro, head of Al Shabab

September 14 2009 - US Special Forces launch helicopter raid into Somalia, killing Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, wanted in connection with Mombassa attacks

October 19 2009 - US drone reported shot down over southern Somalia

April 6 2011 - Airstrike kills an al-Shabab commander

June 23 2011 - Drone strike kills “many”, wounds two al-Shabab leaders

* The Bureau’s analysis is based on credible reports. However, given the covert nature of US operations this should be viewed as a partial list.

JSOC campaign extends to Somalia
As in Yemen, US military operations against al-Shabab and other militant groups in Somalia are carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command. JSOC is made up of ultra-elite, so-called Tier One Special Forces units that were also responsible for the recent killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

JSOC has its own helicopter and drone fleets. It also has access to US Navy assets in the region. Analysis by the Bureau shows that in recent years JSOC has employed cruise missiles, AC-130 gunships and helicopter assaults in Somalia against al-Qaeda linked targets.

In September 2009, for example, a helicopter-borne JSOC raid reportedly killed a senior militant. After a lull of 18 months JSOC activity appears again to be on the rise. In April an airstrike reportedly killed a local al-Shabab commander.

Last week’s strike is further indicator of a significant escalation in US actions in the region. The Bureau recently reported on a major surge in JSOC drone strikes against militants in Yemen. Somalia becomes the sixth recorded nation to be at the receiving end of US drone strikes – after Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya.