The Pentagon conducted a rare drone strike in Somalia against a terrorist leader with a $7 million bounty on his head — a bold operation that left military officials searching on Tuesday for intelligence to verify whether the strike was a success.
Military officials have yet to confirm whether the intended target of the strike in Somalia, al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, is among six militants killed. Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, is al-Shabab’s spiritual leader, under whose direction the Somali militants forged an alliance with al Qaeda.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said that if the al-Shabab leader was killed in the attack, his death would be “a very significant blow to their network.”
Security analysts said Godane’s death could cause an upheaval in al-Shabab, prompting the terrorist group to break away from al Qaeda and instead pledge allegiance to the Islamic State, an extremist group operating in Iraq and Syria.
Godane has no heir apparent, and there are reports of a rift within al-Shabab over which global terrorist group to align with, said Matt Bryden, the head of Sahan Research in Nairobi, Kenya. A struggle for power seems likely, he said.
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said military officials remain concerned about al-Shabab’s relationship to the Islamic State.
“Al-Shabab is very publicly an affiliate of al Qaeda, and they are certainly one of the more threatening terror groups in Africa,” he said.
Adm Kirby said the strike occurred Monday when Godane was thought to be traveling south of Mogadishu, Somalia. His vehicle was fired upon by U.S. drones and manned aircraft using Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions.
A senior Pentagon official said verification would likely be complete within a matter of days. The official also noted that the process could take weeks.
“There’s a lot of bad guys around, and we don’t have people there,” the official said. “We don’t have a presence there. We have a team of four to six people, all sitting at the capital of Somalia.”
Pentagon officials said the military mission has the potential to deter other terrorist networks and militant extremist groups across the world from supporting the Islamic State’s self-declared Muslim caliphate.
“As they try to make their decision to join the Islamic State, we certainly want to give them lots to think about,” the official said.