National Security

U.S. kills top Somali terrorist; Islamic State leaders next, Obama says

President Barack Obama speaks at a news conference at the NATO summit at Celtic Manor, Newport, Wales, Sept. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama speaks at a news conference at the NATO summit at Celtic Manor, Newport, Wales, Sept. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) AP

An American air assault killed the head of an al Qaida-linked Somali terrorist group in East Africa earlier this week, Pentagon officials said Friday.

Ahmed Abdi Godane, who led the al Shabab terror network and had a $7 million U.S. bounty on his head, was killed Monday in an attack by both drones and piloted planes.

“Removing Godane from the battlefield is a major symbolic and operational loss to al Shabab,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Friday, confirming that the Somalia terror kingpin had died in the assault.

A buoyed President Barack Obama on Friday warned leaders of the Islamic State, which has terrorized portions of Iraq and Syria, that they will suffer the same fate as Godane and Osama bin Laden.

Using Washington policymakers’ preferred acronym for the Islamic State, Obama, on the final day of the NATO summit in Wales, said: “We are going to degrade and defeat ISIL, the same way that we have gone after al Qaida, the same way we have gone after the al Qaida affiliate in Somalia, where we have just released today the fact that we have killed the leader of al Shabab in Somalia and have consistently worked to degrade their operations.”

Godane led a terror network that had claimed responsibility for numerous deadly attacks, among them the September 2013 assault that killed at least 67 people at a Nairobi, Kenya, shopping mall.

McClatchy learned that at least two other terrorists died in the bombing raid on Godane’s camp and a vehicle convoy near there, south of the Somali capital of Mogadishu. Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, rebutted claims from witnesses and an al Shabab member that six people, including Godane, had died in the U.S. strike.

“I’m only aware of three total,” Warren told McClatchy.

In addition to carrying out attacks in other countries, al Shabab is trying to overthrow Somalia’s Western-backed government by bombing or shooting up local and federal offices. In Mogadishu, Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Friday said the U.S. airstrike had been conducted “with the full knowledge and agreement” of his government.

“This is an international battle against the scourge of terrorism,” Mohamud told reporters. “The government and the people of Somalia greatly value the support of our international allies, whether it be direct intervention such as on this occasion or longer-term capacity building through the training and equipping of our reconstituted Somali security forces.”

Mohamud offered al Shabab fighters amnesty if they reject violence and renounce their links to the group within 45 days.

“Godane is dead, and now is the chance for members of al Shabab to embrace peace,” he said.

Aymenn al Tamimi, a jihad expert with the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based conservative think tank, downplayed the significance of Godane’s killing, partly because of what he described as the failures of Mohamud’s government.

“I don’t believe that Godane was all that important for al Shabab’s ability to function on the ground,” Tamimi told McClatchy. “The key to scoring long-term success against al Shabab is whether the current government, which still ranks as one of the most corrupt in the world, can successfully reach out to locals in areas from which al Shabab is driven out.”

Nevertheless, the successful military mission to take out Godane was the biggest American anti-terror coup since the May 2, 2011, nighttime raid that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Republican lawmakers, who have criticized Obama for a weak response to the rise of the Islamic State menace in Iraq and Syria, appeared loath to give him any praise for the killing of Godane. Most were silent, and the few who hailed Godane’s death left Obama out of the credits.

“I applaud the U.S. military and intelligence professionals who made the Godane strike a success,” tweeted Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican.

Rep. Ed Royce, a California Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that the death of Godane “should deal a serious blow to the al Qaida-affiliated network, which has been a growing threat to U.S. national security.”

Lesley Clark and Anita Kumar of the Washington Bureau contributed.

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