Thursday, January 11, 2007

Disappointing, But...

Drudge is leading with this (slightly) disappointing headline:

"No Top Terrorist Was Killed in U.S. Airstrike on Somalia."

That would indicate that Monday's AC-130 attack did not net Al Qaida's top operational leader in east Africa, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. Intelligence information indicated that Mohammed, wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, was hiding in a compound struck by the gunship. Mohammed found refuge in Somalia in recent years, but was put on the run by the recent Ethiopian offensive.

While it's disappointing that Mr. Mohammed may still be among the living, his eviction from Mogadishu may produce a similar effect to that observed among Al Qaida leaders in Afghanistan, after the U.S. invasion in 2001. That operation put bin Laden and his minions on the run, and significantly disrupted their ability to mount future, large-scale attacks against western targets. Since that time, Al Qaida has evolved into a much more decentralized operation, with individual cells assuming greater responsibility for planning and executing smaller-scale operations that can produce significant casualties, though nothing on the scale of 9-11.

Meanwhile, Al Qaida's surviving, senior leaders (bin Laden and Zawahiri) have been reduced to little more than propaganda mouthpieces for the organization, releasing the occasional audio or videotape to stoke the fires of jihad, and rally the troops. That does not mean that bin Laden, Zawihiri and their senior aides aren't dangerous--far from it. But when you spend much of your time trying to avoid that next Predator strike (we've almost nailed Zawahiri twice inthe past year), it's hard to develop and execute a plan for that next terrorist "spectacular."

The same holds true in east Africa, where Mohammed's top priority (right now) is avoiding the Ethiopian Army and those pesky AC-130 gunships. He may eventually find sanctuary along the Somali-Kenyan border, but he'll have to essentially start from scratch in rebuilding his organization. That will lessen the chances for Al Qaida-led terrorist strikes in east Africa, at least over the near term.

More importantly, the ejection of Mohammed and his associates from Somalia will deny Al Qaida something it considers even more valuable--a long-term sanctuary in that country. As we've noted before, it was no accident that Zawahiri issued a call for jihad in Somalia as the Islamic Courts were defeated militarily, and Mohammed hit the road. More than a few within the terror group viewed Somalia as a boon to future operations--a place where Al Qaida could train large numbers of fighters for future operations, under the protection of a friendly regime.

But those hopes were dashed when the Ethiopians rolled south, routing the Islamists with key assistance from the U.S. But the battle for Somalia is far from over; the Islamic Courts will likely return, as an insurgency, and surviving Al Qaida remnants will certainly support their fight. But re-establishing a full- scale terrorist operation in east Africa will take even longer, assuming that Mohammed can survive long enough to begin that process. It would be nice to see Fazul Abdullah Mohammed assume room temperature sometime soon, but until that happens, having him on the run (and unable to plan and plot) is an acceptable alternative.

No comments: