A helicopter raid on al Shabab fighters in Somalia yesterday turned out to be the work of US forces, who targeted and likely killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. Nabhan, a Kenyan affiliated with al Qaeda and al Shabab, was “wanted over 2002 attacks on a hotel and an Israeli airliner in Mombasa, Kenya.” Nabhan was potentially also involved in the 1998 attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
This attack was not the first by US forces in Somalia. Last year, a US missile strike killed Aden Hashi Ayro, another al Shabab commander with ties to al Qaeda.
Do US strikes disrupt al Shabab or discourage terrorism in the Horn? Strikes remove leaders, but as an anonymous American official told the New York Times after Ayro’s death, strikes can also “become a major recruiting tool” for rebel groups.
And strikes may be simply ineffective. Numerous missile attacks on Taliban leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan have failed to quash the movement. US policymakers seem to feel they have exhausted nonmilitary options in some cases in Somalia, but examples from the past suggest missile strikes will not have a serious impact on Somalia’s civil war or on the presence of al Qaeda in East Africa.
Nabhan’s death does, however, highlight once again the connections between terrorism in Kenya and the civil war in Somalia.