Somalia: reported US covert actions 2001-2017

US Special Forces AC-130 gunships have been the primary platform for attacks in Somalia (Lockheed Martin/ Flikr)

US and UK covert operations in Somalia

The Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is the lead agency in the covert ‘war on terror’ in Somalia, although the CIA also has a strong regional presence.

The US has been carrying out extensive covert military operations inside Somalia since 2001, as a major six-part investigation by the US Army Times recently revealed.

Elite troops from the Pentagon’s JSOC are routinely deployed on the ground for surveillance, reconnaissance, and assault and capture operations. In June 2011, the US began carrying out drone strikes in Somalia. JSOC has its own fleet of armed Reaper drones, which are flown from various bases in the region.

The CIA also operates a secret base at Mogadishu airport, according to a detailed investigation by Jeremy Scahill at The Nation. Unarmed US surveillance drones also regularly fly from the airport, according to a well-informed Bureau source. While some of these are part of the US ‘war on terror’, many provide support for peacekeeping operations in the region.

The US’s primary target is currently al Shabaab, the militant group which controls much of the country’s south. On February 9 2012, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri announced that al Shabaab had formally become a franchise of al Qaeda.

In recent years, both Kenya and Ethiopia have invaded parts of Somalia, the latter allegedly with the military aid of the US. JSOC forces are reported to have taken advantage of these events to carry out more intensive operations against militants, often using helicopters, airstrikes, AC-130 gunships and “boots on the ground”.

Related story: Militants and civilians killed in multiple US Somalia strikes

Key reports of operations in Somalia
The Bureau has collated credible reports of known covert operations and other events in Somalia relating to the ‘war on terror’. These are drawn from major international news media and agencies, political and military memoirs and papers, and academic research. All sources are transparently presented.

Given the nature of covert operations and the difficulties in reporting from Somalia, the Bureau understands that this is an incomplete record. We welcome corrections and additions.

Covert US operations, Somalia 2001-2016
US drone strikes Additional US attacks
Total reported strikes: 32-36 9-13
Total reported killed: 242-418 59-166
Civilians reported killed: 3-12 7-47
Children reported killed: 0-2 0-2
Total reported injured: 5-24 11-21


2001 – 2005 

In 2001, the Bush administration reportedly considered military strikes against Somalia, accusing it of having ties to al Qaeda. Action was abandoned because of insufficient intelligence. ‘Somalia has been a place that has harboured al Qaeda and, to my knowledge, still is’, then-defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in 2001. Military flights in P-3 aircraft conducted surveillance while an increased numbers of US ships and submarines patrolled the Somali coastline. Reportedly about 100 US Special Forces operated in the country, similar to early incursions into Afghanistan. On December 2, 2001, the UK Daily Telegraph reported that the US had asked the UK for assistance in planning strikes on ‘terror bases’ in Somalia.

LocationSomalia various
References: Menkhaus 2004The GuardianAfrica ConfidentialThe TelegraphThe Telegraph

November 2001

Washington placed Hassan Dahir Aweys (pictured) on its terrorist list. Aweys was the head of the 90-member shura council of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) of Somalia and was viewed as one of its more radical leaders. The US also declared the suspected terrorist Fazul Abdullah Mohamed was operating within Somali borders. Sanctions on individuals soon expanded to groups. On November 7 2001, the US Treasury blocked the assets of the largest Somali telecommunications and remittance network, al-Barakaat. According to a November 2001 press release by the White House, al-Barakaat offices ‘raise, manage and distribute funds for al-Qaeda; provide terrorist supporters with Internet service and secure telephone communications; and arrange for the shipment of weapons’.

LocationWashington DC, Mogadishu
ReferencesDe Waal & Salam 2004International Crisis GroupHarper 2007Menkhaus 2004George W Bush Archive

Late 2001, early 2002
A major investigation by the US Army Times has revealed that in the first years following the September 11 attacks, there were rumours of potential al Qaeda training camps in Ras Kamboni, a coastal town about two miles from the Kenyan border. ‘We were throwing people at Ras Kamboni … in late ‘01, early ‘02,’ an intelligence source with long experience in the Horn of Africa told reporter Sean D. Naylor. Looking specifically at JSOC, an intelligence source told Naylor that ‘between 2001 and 2004, JSOC never had more than three people at a time in Somalia’.

Location: Ras Kamboni
References: Army TimesArmy TimesDe Waal & Salam 2004

Between 2001 and 2004, JSOC never had more than three people at a time in Somalia’ – US intelligence source 

March 19 2003
A team possibly including US commandos reportedly snatched alleged al Qaeda member Suleiman Abdallah from a hospital in Mogadishu and transported him out of the country for questioning, according to one claim. Staff at the Kaysaney Red Cross Hospital said a six-man team in plain clothes snatched the suspect from his bed and rushed him to an airstrip in a raid lasting only minutes. It appears that the Americans were working with a militia faction that controls the area around the hospital in the north of the city’, the Telegraph reported. The TFG told the Telegraph the US team included ‘4 or 5’ FBI agents. Matt Bryden, coordinator for the UN monitoring group on Somalia, and Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group, wrote in autumn 2003 that Abdallah was a Yemeni national:

Although intelligence officials have not publicly disclosed evidence linking Abdallah to any terrorist acts, he was found to be in possession of a list of former and serving US government officials, suggesting a planned attack on American targets.

According to legal charity Reprieve Abdallah was captured ‘by a notorious warlord named Mohammed Dheere‘. He was then ‘sold to the CIA and then rendered to Djibouti, Kenya and Afghanistan’. Abdallah was held by the US for ‘over five years in incommunicado detention in the Salt Pit, the Dark Prison and Bagram Airforce Base’, before being released in July 2008. The case is documented in a UN secret detention report. In March 2012 a torture victim understood to be Abdallah and referred to as ‘Rashid in the US Annals of Internal Medicine is described as having suffered ‘severe beatings, prolonged solitary confinement, forced nakedness and humiliation, sexual assault, being locked naked in a coffin, and forced to lie naked on a wet mat, naked and handcuffed, and then rolled up into a wet mat “like a corpse.”’

Type of action: Ground operation, rendition
Location: Mogadishu
ReferencesBoston College International & Comparative Law Review Daily TelegraphJournal of Conflict StudiesReprieveUN, Annals of Internal Medicine citation via Policy Mic, The Nation (US)

November 2003
US special forces infiltrated Somalian waters in 2003 and planted a dozen or more concealed cameras, as part of Operations Cobalt Blue and Poison Scepter, the Army Times revealed. According to reporter Sean D. Naylor, on January 12 2004 a fisherman discovered one of the cameras. ‘Asked what the secret camera missions achieved, the intel source with long experience on the Horn answered bluntly: “Nothing”.’

Type of action: Ground operation, surveillance
Location: Northern/eastern coast of Somalia
Reference: Army Times

Again according to Sean D. Naylor of the Army Times, beginning in 2003 teams of CIA case officers and ‘shooters’ from a special operations unit – Task Force Orange – flew into Somalia from Nairobi. Initially the teams gathered intelligence. ‘They soon expanded to include working with warlords to hunt al-Qaida members, tapping cellphones, purchasing [back] anti-aircraft missiles and, ultimately, developing a deeper understanding of al-Qaida’s East African franchise and how it fit into the wider al-Qaida network,’ Naylor reported. In an effort to develop targets, the CIA, supported by TF Orange, ran a series of missions into Mogadishu to ‘seed’ the city with devices that monitored mobile phone traffic, according to a senior military official. Mobile phone tapping targets included Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of the original al-Qaida in East Africa leaders, as well as two senior figures in Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militia: Aden Hashi Ayro, who allegedly trained in al Qaeda’s Afghanistan camps, and Ahmed Abdi Godane, the group’s leader from 2009 to 2010, according to the intelligence official.

Location: Mogadishu
Reference: Army Times

Mogadishu through a bullet hole (UN/Flickr)
Mogadishu through a bullet hole (UN/Flickr)

Late 2003 to early 2004
Interest in Ras Kamboni resumed in late 2003 to early 2004, when US personnel flew over the town but saw no sign of any training camps. At that time, the US were also paying ‘unilateral assets’ – spies – to enter southern Somalia, including Ras Kamboni, and report on what they observed. Paid $1,000 – $2,000 a month, these were ‘Somalis who had businesses in the region, Somalis who had reason to be there,’ the source said. ‘People we could depend on.’ According to the International Crisis Group, key individuals paid by the US for counter-terrorism included ‘Mohamed Omar Habeeb (aka Mohamed Dheere, regional ‘governor’ of the Middle Shabelle), Bashir Raghe (a northern Mogadishu businessman), Mohamed Qanyare Afrah Hussein Aydiid, and Generals Mohamed Nur Galal and Ahmed Hili’ow Addow’. By 2006, the US was paying Somali militants up to $150,000 a month for their support.

Location: Ras Kamboni
References: Army TimesInternational Crisis GroupPrendergast & Thomas-Jensen

June 2004
One night in June 2004, Mohammed Ali Isse was captured in a CIA-ordered raid on his Mogadishu safe house by the Americans. A Somalilander, Isse was reportedly radicalised by the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now serving a life sentence for masterminding the killings of four foreign aid workers, including two British teachers, in late 2003 and early 2004. Mohamed Afrah Qanyare, a ‘scar-faced warlord in a business suit’, told the Chicago Tribune: ‘I captured Isse for the Americans…The Americans contracted us to do certain things, and we did them. Isse put up resistance so we shot him. But he survived.’ Legal charity Reprieve told the Bureau that Isse was rendered to a warship off the coast of Djibouti. ‘He was later flown to Camp Lemonier‘ the Chicago Tribune reported, ‘and from there to a clandestine prison in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Isse and his lawyer allege he was detained there for six weeks and tortured by Ethiopian military intelligence with electric shocks‘. Isse was finally returned to Somaliland, where he remains imprisoned.

Type of action: Ground operation, rendition
Location: Mogadishu
References: Chicago TribuneReprieveAmnesty

2001 – 2005
During this period, warlords paid by the CIA helped render ‘seven or eight’ al Qaida figures out of Somalia, Sean D. Naylor of the Army Times reported. This included suspected al Qaeda terrorist Suleiman Abdallah from a hospital in Mogadishu in March 2003 and Mohammed Ali Isse, a Somalilander captured by warlords in Mogadishu in 2004 and rendered to a warship off the coast of Djibouti, before being imprisoned in Somaliland. As the Chicago Tribune reported, ‘the Somalis on the CIA payroll engaged in a grim tit-for-tat exchange of kidnappings and assassinations with extremists.’ However, Matt Bryden, coordinator for the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, told the Chicago Tribune that, in his opinion, the CIA’s cooperation with the warlords was ‘a stupid idea… it actually strengthened the hand of the Islamists and helped trigger the crisis we’re in today.’

Type of action: Ground operation, rendition 
References: Army TimesBoston College International & Comparative Law ReviewDaily TelegraphJournal of Conflict StudiesReprieveUNChicago Tribune


June 2006
Confidential emails seen by Africa Confidential and the Observer indicated that US mercenaries may have been operating in Somalia with the knowledge of the CIA. There was also a suggestion that British companies were ‘looking to get involved.’ One email dated June 16 was from Michele Ballarin, chief executive of Select Armor – a US military firm based in Virginia. She claimed that she had been given ‘carte blanche’ to use three bases in Somalia ‘and the air access to reach them’.

References: Africa Confidential September 8 2006 (paywall), The Observer

December 24 2006
Ethiopia invaded Somalia aiming to drive out the Islamic Courts Union, and to reinstate the Transitional Somali Government. Several sources reported that Ethiopia received extensive backing from the US, with the Nation’s Jeremy Scahill calling the invasion ‘a classic [US] proxy war’. As 10,000 troops crossed the border, they received airborne reconnaissance support and ‘other intelligence’ from the US, the Washington Post reported. Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Commander Joe Carpenter told USA Today the US and Ethiopian militaries have ‘a close working relationship’. The US also began diverting drones to Somalia to monitor a perceived rise in militant activity. An intelligence source told the Army Times:

We really took [a] risk in Iraq and Afghanistan and brought resources there [to the Horn].

But Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer later told the BBC: ‘We urged the Ethiopian military not to go into Somalia. In a December 6 diplomatic cable quoted by Army Times, US Ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Yamamoto warned the Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi that the invasion could ‘prove more difficult for Ethiopia than many now imagine’. JSOC was unprepared for the invasion, a senior military official told the Army Times. ‘The military wasn’t prepared to take any advantage of it,’ he said. ‘Less than a dozen’ JSOC operators entered the country with Ethiopian special forces to hunt down a small number of senior al Qaeda associates. By December 28, Ethiopian forces had entered Mogadishu as militants fled to the south.

References: Army TimesAir Force TimesThe NationWashington PostBBCLA TimesIRINUSA TodayWikiLeaks diplomatic cable


The US became convinced that ‘hundreds‘ of fighters were training in camps in and around Ras Kamboni, a senior intelligence official told Sean D. Naylor. ‘We observed two that had at least 150 personnel per [at any one time],’ the official said.

Location: Ras Kamboni
ReferenceArmy Times

January 4 2007
Naval forces from Combined Task Force (CTF) 150 were now boarding vessels off the coast of Somalia to search for terrorist suspects, the US announced. These ‘Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure’ (VBSS) missions were performed on fishing boats and oil tankers passing near the Somali coast. The aim was to ‘deter individuals with links to al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations the use of the sea as a potential escape route’.

Location: Off the coast of Somalia
ReferenceUS Department of Defense

January 7 2007
♦ 9-10 total reported killed
♦ 2+ civilians reported killed, 0-1 children
♦ 1-3 reported injured

As Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia, the US carried out its first known combat operation within Somalia since the September 11 2001 attacks. A JSOC AC-130 gunship attacked a suspected al Qaeda convoy under cover of darkness, after tracking it with a Predator drone. Up to a dozen militants were killed. US officials, speaking anonymously, named various al Qaeda members as potential targets including Aden Hashi Eyro or AyroFazul Abdullah Mohammed, and Sudanese explosives expert Abu Talha al Sudani (aka Tariq Abdullah).

According to several reports and Pentagon spokesperson Bryan Whitman, targets were those believed to be responsible for the 1998 embassy bombings, which killed 225 people. Al Sudani was also reportedly “al Qaeda’s leader in East Africa” and was involved in the 2002 Paradise Hotel bombing in Kenya that killed 13 people.

Somali government spokesperson Abdul Rashid Hidig told the New York Times that two civilians were killed, although an Islamist spokesperson said many nomadic tribesmen died, including many children. US Ambassador to Kenya Michael Rannenberger denied any civilian casualties in an interview with the BBC. Pentagon spokesperson Bryan Whitman told CBS News the strike was based on intelligence ‘that led us to believe we had principal al Qaeda leaders in an area where we could identify them and take action against them.’ But another US official told the Washington Post: ‘Frankly, I don’t think we know who we killed.’

A team of Ethiopian military with one US Special Forces operative landed at the scene within hours and confirmed eight dead and three injured, the New York Times reported the following month. Ayro’s bloodied passport was found, leading them to believe he had been wounded or killed, the report added – although Ayro was later targeted in SOM008. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was also reportedly the target of SOM002 and SOM005. A later report in the Daily Mail claimed four British citizens were killed in the attack (see March 2007). Five days after the incident, a number of individuals surrendered to Kenyan authorities, including a number of Swedish citizens; Fazul’s wife Mariam Ali Mohammed; and eight children. They were deported to Mogadishu and then seized by the Ethiopian intelligence service, who transported them to Addis Addaba where they were held for ten weeks.

Type of action: Air operation, AC-130 gunship
Location: Ras Kamboni
ReferencesSomalia ReportBetween Threats and War (Zenko) p. 145, Army TimesCBS News, International Crisis GroupMenkhausWashington PostLos Angeles TimesNew York TimesNew York TimesLong War JournalDaily Mail, AP via ChinaDaily, Wired, Daily Times (Kenya), New York Times, Pentagon statement

January 9 2007
♦ 5-10 total reported killed
♦ 4-5 reported injured

Two days after the AC-130 attack, another US airstrike hit four towns near Ras Kamboni, including a training camp on Badmadow island. US officials denied to the LA Times that SOM001 and SOM002 were the work of US forces and blamed Ethiopian air attacks, although this appears to be contradicted by a January 12 2007 US secret cable obtained by WikiLeaks, which refers to a ‘US military … strike Jan. 9 against members of the East Africa Al Qaeda cell believed to be on the run in a remote area of Somalia near the Kenyan border.’ A US intelligence official, speaking anonymously, told AP that five to ten people targeted by the strike were believed to be associated with al Qaeda. The US military’s main target on the island was thought to be Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. Although reports suggested he had been killed, he was also the target of SOM001 and SOM005. The official said a small number of others present, perhaps four or five, were wounded. Government spokesperson Abdirahman Dinari said it was not known how many people were killed, ‘but we understand there were a lot of casualties. Most were Islamic fighters.’

Type of action: Air operation, AC-130 gunship
Location: Hayo, Garer, Bankajirow and Badmadow, Ras Kamboni
References: WikiLeaks dipomatic cableCBSLos Angeles Times, Long War Journal

January 9 2007
♦ 4-31 total reported killed
♦ 4-31 civilians reported killed, including 0-1 child

Heavy civilian casualties were reported in airstrikes on Hayi near Afmadow, on Hayi, 250km northwest of Ras Kamboni, and other parts of southern Somalia, in confusing reports which may conflate activity by US and other forces. An elder told Reuters 22-27 people had been killed, while a Somali politician told CBS News that 31 civilians ‘including a newlywed couple’ had been killed by two helicopters near Afmadow, while Mohamed Mahmud Burale told AP that at least four civilians were killed on Monday evening in Hayi, including his four-year-old son.

Type of action” Air operation, possibly helicopter
Location: Hayi
References: AP via ChinaDailyCBSNew York TimesLos Angeles TimesReuters

January 23 2007
♦ 8 total reported killed
♦ Possible civilians reported killed

A fresh JSOC AC-130 strike in Somalia, reportedly operating from an airbase in eastern Ethiopia, targeted Ahmed Madobe, a deputy of ICU leader Hassan Turki. Madobe survived the attack but was wounded and captured, he later told The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill. His eight companions, who Madobe said included men and women ‘on the run’ with him, were all killed. Madobe told the Nation:

At around 4am we woke up to perform the dawn prayers, and that’s when the planes started to hit us. The entire airspace was full of planes. There was AC-130, helicopters and fighter jets. The sky was full of strikes. They were hitting us, pounding us with heavy weaponry.

At around 10am, he added, Ethiopian and US forces landed by helicopter and captured him. Somalia Report said the attack was on an al Qaeda supply convoy, and ‘follow-up operations’ confirmed the strike killed Tariq Abdullah.

Type of action: Air operation, AC-130 gunship and ground assault, capture
Location: Waldena
References: AP via Washington PostWikiLeaks diplomatic cableThe NationArmy TimesBetween Threats and War (Zenko) p. 146, International Crisis GroupSomalia ReportReuters, New York Times

March 2007

A single source claims an SAS unit entered Somalia with members of US Delta Force (part of JSOC) to identify the remains of British and other foreign fighters killed in SOM004. The joint mission took DNA samples from 50 exhumed bodies and four British citizens were identified, the report claimed.

Type of action: Ground operation
Location: Hayo
ReferenceDaily Mail

June 1 2007
♦ 8-12 reported killed
♦ Five gunmen captured

The destroyer USS Chafee, sailing off the coast of Somalia, fired ‘more than a dozen rounds from its 5-inch gun’ on militants in Bargal, north Somalia (some reports also claimed that a cruise missile was fired). Somali spokesmen claimed the strike was launched after around 35 heavily armed militants landed on the coast near Bargal and attacked local forces. The New York Times and Micah Zenko reported that a small number of US operatives – working alongside Somali forces to hunt high-value targets believed to be among the militants – came under fire, prompting the missile launch, enabling the US and Ethiopian troops to escape. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the 1998 embassy bombings, was among the targets, according to MSNBC and Zenko. The strike killed eight to twelve alleged militants, reportedly including men from the UK, US, Eritrea, Sweden and Yemen. Five militants were captured, a Somali official told the Chicago Tribune. The US operatives comprised three counterterrorism officials who were ‘investigating the computers that the militants were carrying,’ Hassan Dahir, the vice-president of Puntland, told the New York Times.

In 2013 it emerged that Yemeni Mansur al Bayhani was killed in this attack. He was one of 23 al Qaeda members who escaped from prison on Yemen in 2006, according to author and Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen’s book The Last Refuge. Al Bayhani had turned himself in to the Yemen authorities and had sworn not to carry out any attacks in Yemen. Several of the 23 escapees went on to found al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Type of action: Naval operation, naval bombardment
Location: Bargal, Puntland
ReferencesBetween Threats and War (Zenko) p.147, Army Times, Stars and Stripes, Chicago Tribune, New York TimesMSNBCLong War JournalTelegraph, The Last Refuge

 ‘The entire airspace was full of planes. There was AC-130, helicopters and fighter jets. The sky was full of strikes‘ – Ahmed Madobe 

June 7 2007
The US announced it had detained and rendered suspected al Qaeda member Abdullahi Sudi Arale, a leading member of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) who it described as ‘an extremely dangerous terror suspect’, with links to Islamist forces in Somalia. Arale had been detained in the Horn of Africa and transferred to the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon said:

Abdullahi Sudi Arale is suspected of being a member of the Al Qaeda terrorist network in East Africa, serving as a courier between East Africa Al Qaeda (EAAQ) and Al Qaeda in Pakistan. Since his return from Pakistan to Somalia in September 2006, he has held a leadership role in the EAAQ-affiliated Somali Council of Islamic Courts (CIC). There is significant information available indicating that Arale has been assisting various EAAQ-affiliated extremists in acquiring weapons and explosives, and has facilitated terrorist travel by providing false documents for AQ and EAAQ-affiliates and foreign fighters traveling into Somalia. Arale played a significant role in the re-emergence of the CIC in Mogadishu.

Type of action: Ground operation, rendition
Location: Somalia


March 3 2008

♦ 0-6 total reported killed
♦ 0-4 civilians reported killed
♦ 3-8 reported injured

The US fired at least one and as many as three cruise missiles at Dhobley, a town in southern Somalia four miles from the Kenyan border. Pentagon spokesperson Bryan Whitman told AFP: ‘On March 2, the US conducted an attack against a known al Qaeda terrorist in southern Somalia.’ The Long War Journal reported the strike targeted Ras Kamboni Brigades leader Hassan Turki and al Qaeda leader Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. He was a member of al Qaeda’s ruling Shura Council and controlled the group’s East Africa cells. The US had put a $25m bounty on his head. Despite anonymous officials claiming it was a cruise missile strike, an Islamist spokesperson said the town was bombed and civilian targets hit in an attack carried out by a US AC-130 gunship. There were conflicting reports of casualties in the strike. A local elderAbdullahi Sheikh Duale, said four civilians were killed. Witnesses said at least six people were killed in the strike. And a police officer told AP eight people were wounded in the strike. However Dhobley residents told the New York Times three civilians were injured in the attack that partly destroyed a house. The only fatalities were three cows and a donkey, they said.

Type of action: Naval operation, cruise missiles and possible air operation, AC-130 gunship
Location: Dhobley
ReferencesAFPBloombergMonsters and CriticsLong War JournalAssociated Press, Washington Times, New York Times


May 1 2008
♦ 8-15 total reported killed
♦ 5-10 civilians reported killed

In May 2008, US naval-launched cruise missiles killed Aden Hashi Ayro (see also SOM001), the head of the Somali Islamist movement al Shabaab, which had growing ties with Al Qaeda. Some reports claimed an AC-130 was also involved. After Ayro’s death al Shabaab reportedly suspected the US had tracked him through his iPhone and banned the use of similar devices. An American military official in Washington told the New York Times:

[A]t least four Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from a Navy ship or submarine off the Somali coast had slammed into a small compound of single-story buildings in Dusa Marreb, a well-known hide-out for Mr. Ayro and his associates. The military official and two American intelligence officials said all indications were that Mr. Ayro was killed, along with several top lieutenants, but the attack was still being assessed.

Insurgent leaders had been meeting in Dusa Marreb, al Shabaab-controlled broadcaster Shabelle reported, putting the death toll at 15. A Shabaab spokesperson, Mukhtar Ali Robow, told Reuters: ‘Infidel planes bombed Dusa Marreb… Two of our important people, including Ayro, were killed.’ Sheikh Muhyadin Omar was among the dead, according to the Long War Journal and Africa Confidential. Residents said ‘several other Shabaab fighters and civilians were killed, Reuters reported. Half a dozen senior Al Shabaab commanders and Ayro’s brother were killed in the strike, according to Africa Confidential. Ayro’s wife and children, and people from nearby houses, were also reported dead.

Type of action: Naval operation, cruise missiles and possible air assault, AC-130 gunship
Location: Dusa Marreb town, central Somalia
References: Army TimesChristian Science MonitorAllAfrica.comTime, Between Threats and War (Zenko) p. 151, New York TimesReutersAfrica ConfidentialLong War JournalLong War Journal, US diplomatic cable, AFP


March 2009
Newsweek reported that the Pentagon considered attacking an al-Shabaab training camp. A high-level operative with the group was supposed to be attending a ‘graduation ceremony’ of militants from a camp. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen reportedly outlined a ‘strike package’ which included bombing other camps. The tactic was likened by USMC General James Cartwright to ‘carpet bombing a country.’ President Obama vetoed the attack.

Location: Southern Somalia
Reference: Newsweek, Kill Or Capture/ Klaidman pp49-51, pp201-203

March 14 2009
Apparently confirming US fears of a militant link between Somalia and al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden used an audio recording, posted on Jihadi websites, to urge Somalis to ‘fight on‘ against their newly elected president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, CBS News reported. ‘Bin Laden asked Muslim youths to disseminate extremist literature online‘, the report claimed. Ken Menkhaus, professor of political science at Davidson University and Somalia expert, felt bin Laden’s message would only bolster support for the new president. ‘There’s nothing that plays as poorly in Somalia as foreigners trying to advance their own agenda in Somalia – telling them who they may or may not have as a leader – and al-Qaeda is falling into that category. In some ways, you could not script this any better for the new government. On paper, it all looks excellent,’ he told TIME.

ReferencesCBS NewsThe IndependentYouTubeTIME

April 12 2009
♦ 3 pirates reported killed
A hostage rescue operation reveals the presence of JSOC Navy Seal Team 6 commandos off the coast of Somalia. Richard Phillips, a rescued US hostage, was then ‘flown to the Boxer, an amphibious assault ship also off the Somali coast’. The Boxer, a JSOC ship, also featured in the 2011 capture and rendition off the Yemen coast of Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame.

Location: Off the coast of Somalia
References: The Daily BeastNew York TimesThe GuardianLos Angeles Times

September 14 2009
♦ 2-6 reported killed
♦ 2 reported injured

In an operation codenamed ‘Celestial Balance’ US Special Forces launched a helicopter raid into Somalia, killing Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, wanted in connection with the Mombasa attacks. ‘We’d been tracking him for years,’ a senior military official told Sean D. Naylor, in the Army Times. ‘We knew his travel route, we knew the vehicles he was using’. Three options were initially mooted to Obama and his senior advisers: to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles from a warship off the Somali coast; a helicopter attack on the convoy, or a ‘snatch and grab operation attempting to take Nabhan alive. According to Klaidman ‘as everyone left the meeting that evening it was clear that the only viable plan was the lethal one.’

The US learned that Nabhan’s convoy would be setting off from Mogadishu to meet Islamic militants in the coastal town of Baraawe, the Beast reported. As the convoy neared Baraawe, JSOC struck. A number of 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment AH-6 Little Bird helicopters flew from a Navy ship and attacked the militants as they were breakfasting, killing six, including Nabhan, according to news reports. However, NPR radio reported that SEAL commandos fired missiles into Nabhan’s car. The Army Times and Daily Beast stated that one helicopter landed, with operators jumping out to load the bodies of Nabhan and three others into the aircraft, in order to retrieve Nabhan’s DNA. Following this operation, a Pentagon official told the Daily Beast the US Special Ops Forces wanted to increase their use of Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE), not just to kill terror targets but to rummage through their belongings’, but ‘the president was not supportive’ and that this became a bone of contention between Special Ops and the Obama administration.

Type of action: Air operation, helicopter and ground assault, body retrieval 
Location: Barawe
ReferencesABC, Mareeg, GuardianTimeArmy TimesAir Force TimesNPRThe Daily Beast, Daily Mail, Long War Journal, Long War Journal, Kill Or Capture/ Klaidman pp125-127

September 22 2009
A diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks revealed unarmed US drones would soon fly from a base in the Seychelles on missions over Somalia: ‘Counter-terrorism missions will involve intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance flights over the Horn of Africa to support ongoing counter-terrorism efforts. The UAVs originating from Seychelles and flying counter-terrorism mission will not conduct direct attacks.’ ABC News has since reported ‘US Africa Command has been flying drones out of the Seychelles since 2009 as part of anti-piracy measures in the Indian Ocean.’ The WikiLeaks cable revealed 77 US personnel would be located in Mahe, the capital, to launch, recover and maintain the drones.

Location: Mahe, Seychelles
References: WikiLeaks cableABC

We’d been tracking him for yearsWe knew his travel route, we knew the vehicles he was using’ – senior US military official to Army Times 

September 30 2009
A secret directive, the ‘Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order’, was signed by General David Petraeus, chief of Central Command, authorising ‘the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces,’ according to the New York Times. The order, which an official said ‘was drafted in close coordination with Admiral Eric T. Olson, the officer in charge of the United States Special Operations Command‘, called for clandestine activities that ‘cannot or will not be accomplished’ by conventional military operations or ‘interagency activities.’

ReferenceNew York Times

October 19 2009
Al Shabaab militants claimed they had shot down a US surveillance drone just off the coast near to Kismayo. ‘The suspected US aircraft had been flying in Kismayo airspace for days before being shot down two miles north-east of the town on Monday morning,’ an unnamed Islamist official told the BBC. ‘We think it fell into the sea. We are still searching for it’. ‘It fell into the water and our fighters are trying to locate it,’ al Shabaab spokesperson Sheikh Hassan Yacqub told Reuters. But US Navy spokesperson Lieutenant Nathan Christensen told Reuters all drones had been safely recovered.

Location: Kismayo
References: BBCReuters


February 4 2010
A Pentagon request to carry out targeted killings of al-Shabaaab leaders was reportedly overridden by Pentagon legal adviser Jeh Johnson. According to Newsweek

The decision came just as the military was ramping up its operations in Somalia. Pentagon officers left the meeting without saying a word to Johnson. It was a lonely moment for an ambitious lawyer who was used to getting along with his uniformed colleagues.

Johnson reversed his decision by the end of 2010 after ‘the military mounted a fierce campaign to persuade him to reverse course.’

Location: Washington DC
Reference: Newsweek, Kill Or Capture/ Klaidman pp212-213, pp218-223

Summer 2010
According to the Guardian, in summer 2010 the UK began drawing up ‘contingency plans’ for airstrikes on beach camps in Somalia, having become highly concerned about the threat to Britain and Europe posed by pirates and Islamic insurgents. ‘The UK has also considered plans for attacking targets in places where al-Shabaab and the pirates appear to co-exist, particularly in southern Somalia’, the Guardian reported.

Location: coastal and southern Somalia
Reference: The Guardian

Autumn 2010
The US agreed to place two Al Shabaab leaders on its ‘death list’ including Sheikh Mohammed Mukhtar Abdirahman, according to Newsweek. Efforts to add a third man, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, were reportedly overruled by State Department lawyer Harold Koh.

Koh forcefully insisted that the “killing would be unlawful.” Robow was removed from the targeting list. But the pressure to expand the list rarely lets up. After Al-Shabab’s top leader swore his organization’s allegiance to al Qaeda earlier this year [2012], Obama officials renewed their earlier debate. Robow’s life again hangs in the balance.

Location: Washington DC
Reference: Newsweek, Kill Or Capture/ Klaidman pp221-223


April 3-6 2011
♦ 1-36 reported killed

After a reporting gap of 18 months, US air attacks may have resumed. Reports of intense fighting for control of the town of Dhobley between al Shabaab and Somali forces mention an air strike, which Shabelle reports killed several militants. Somalia Report stated: ‘on April 6, shortly after the exploitation of data from captured al-Qaeda cell phones and laptops, three dozen al Shabab members were killed‘, although later reports say only one commander was killed. Jabreel Malik Muhammed was killed in the strike, according to the Observer (Uganda).

Type of action: Air operation, airstrike
Location: Dhobley
References: The Observer (Uganda), AllAfrica, Long War Journal, Somalia ReportAl ArabiyaSomalia Report

June 23 2011
♦ 2+ reported killed
♦ 2-3 reported injured

In the first known lethal drone strike in Somalia, Predators struck a militant training camp 10km south of Kismayo. Further missiles hit a second target near the airport. The attacks were aimed at two senior militants who were planning an imminent terrorist attack on the UK, US officials told the Washington Post. Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig, Somalia’s deputy defence minister, told AP the strike killed ‘many’ foreign fighters. ‘I have their names, but I don’t want to release them,’ he claimed. Ibrahim al Afghani, also known as Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, a senior leader in al Shabaab, was reportedly wounded or killed, although Strategic Forecasting claimed on August 11 that Afghani was alive and had replaced Ahmed Abdi Godane as the emir of al Shabaab. Al Shabaab has not responded to either report, and Afghani has not appeared in public since. Two militants were wounded, according to a local al Shabaab leader, Sheik Hassan Yaqub, while resident Mohammed Aden reported seeing three wounded militants. Among them was British citizen Bilal al Berjawi, killed in a subsequent drone strike,