Sun, Sep 07, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Group cofounder slain in US strike

AL-SHABAAB:The delayed confirmation followed US and British debate about the ‘positive, but not decisive’ blow to the Somalia-based group of religious extremists

NY Times News Service, NEWPORT, Wales

Ahmed Abdi Godane is pictured in an undated handout photo courtesy of the US Department of State.

Photo: Reuters

After four days of monitoring cellphone traffic, questioning Somalian officials on the ground and poring over reports from both US and British intelligence agencies, the US Pentagon on Friday announced that US airstrikes against the al-Shabaab extremist network in Somalia had indeed succeeded in killing one of the group’s leaders, Ahmed Abdi Godane, among the most wanted men throughout Africa.

“We have confirmed that Ahmed Godane, the cofounder of al-Shabaab, has been killed,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

He called Godane’s death “a major symbolic and operational loss” to al-Shabaab.

Speaking at a news conference after a NATO summit, US President Barack Obama drew a direct link between the killing of Godane, who turned an obscure local militant group into one of the most fearsome extremist groups in the world, and Obama’s plans for the leaders of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant.

Obama vowed to “hunt” down Islamic State leaders “the same way” the US had pursued Godane.

US military officials had waited several days to confirm that Godane was killed in one of the two strikes — on an encampment and on a vehicle south of Mogadishu, the Somali capital. The strikes were carried out by US special operations forces using both manned and unmanned aircraft and they were undertaken, Pentagon officials said, based on intelligence that Godane was at the encampment.

The warplanes dropped Hellfire missiles and precision bombs on the encampment and Pentagon officials said they believed that everyone there was killed. However, initially they were not sure that Godane was there and were wary of declaring victory only to have him emerge alive later.

Pentagon and intelligence officials have since been monitoring cellphone conversations and other intelligence to verify his death.

There was an internal debate, administration officials said, among intelligence and defense officials both in the US and Britain over the evidence that Godane was dead. Administration officials said they wrestled with conflicting assessments.

“The bar for proof of death went way up,” one US official said, who spoke anonymously to discuss internal matters openly.

A senior US defense official, also speaking on grounds of anonymity, said: “Everybody understood how important it was to get this right, especially given who he was. This was about being careful and deliberate.”

General Carter Ham, the retired head of the US military’s Africa Command, said of Godane’s death: “The effect will be positive, but not decisive.”

“He has proven over the years to be an elusive figure, but one who has galvanized some elements within al-Shabaab,” Ham said. “His death will remove an effective terrorist leader from al-Shabaab’s ranks, but it will not cause al-Shabaab to suddenly crumble or, probably, to significantly alter course.”

At the height of its power, al-Shabaab, under Godane’s leadership, controlled more territory than just about any other terror group.

Godane, thought to be about 40 years old, had been one of the most-wanted figures in Africa, widely believed to have orchestrated countless attacks on civilians, including the massacre of dozens of shoppers at a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, last year. He has presided over a reign of fear and violence inside Somalia for several years, organizing the stoning of teenage girls and crude public amputations — all part of an effort to manifest al-Shabaab’s vision of strict Islamic rule, analysts and officials have said.

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