The US SEAL Team 6’s seaborne raid on the Somali coastal town of Barawe, Saturday Oct. 5 for the capture of the high profile al-Shabaab operative Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir was both a planning and an operational bungle
A Kenyan of Somali origin, Abdulkkadir was one of the masterminds of the surprise terrorist attack the Al Qaeda-affiliated Somali group perpetrated on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi (Sept. 21), which left at least 67 people dead.
(DEBKA Weekly 604 of Sept. 27 was almost entirely devoted to coverage of the Westgate attack).
The US raiders missed catching him because their commanders failed to pick up the signals that Al Shabaab and its Al Qaeda allies were replaying the infamous 20-year old Battle of Mogadishu, commonly referred to as “Black Hawk Down” – or locally, as the Day of the Rangers, in which 18 Americans died and 73 were injured.
The successful capture of the Al Shabaab leader in Barawe would have erased the painful memory of the Mogadishu debacle. It would also have demonstrated to the jihadists of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb-AQIM, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula-AQAP and Al Shabaab that their feat in Nairobi was a one-off and they had better not challenge the formidable new US counterterrorism machine now operating in the Middle East and Africa.
Obama and the Pentagon needed a Somali success
The Somali raid had two more vital goals. One was to vindicate President Barack Obama’s decision to switch his counter-terrorist strategy from drone strikes against Al Qaeda targets to pinpoint raids by small Special Forces teams. The second was to justify the Pentagon’s huge investment of around $2 billion in relocating its European center of gravity from Germany to Italy as the future launching pad for conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and beyond.
In the 1993 disaster, reconstructed in a best-selling book and movie, a special force of US Army Rangers from Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment better known as Delta Force, landed in the center of Mogadishu to capture or kill self-proclaimed president-designate Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
The Somali fighters, most of whom were Al Qaeda-trained, planted a trap for the US forces, and the two combat helicopters sent to rescue them were shot down by fire from the ground.
The US forces finally managed to withdraw with heavy casualties and at heavy cost to the Somali civilian population. To this day, no final figure has even been calculated for Somali civilian losses but it has been estimated at 700-1,000.
Neither US special forces nor Al Shebaab had changed tactics
Like then, DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources report the Barawe operation of Oct. 5, 2013, failed to achieve any of its objectives because of the following:
1. The US Navy Seal Team Six which launched the amphibious raid on Barawe was too small for its mission, both in proportion to the local population of about 35,000 and the size of the Al Shabaab force present in the town and its capabilities.
2. The jihadist enemy force was substantial. Al Shabaab fighting units had been collecting in Barawe in the past year as they were driven out of Mogadishu, under the pressure of 17,000 African Union Peace Mission (AMISOM) troops, and after they lost control of the port town of Kismayo to the Kenyan army.
3. In Barawe, the “Black Hawk Down” scenario repeated itself because neither the Al Shabaab nor the US special forces raiders had change their tactics.
As the SEAL’s Team Six made its way toward the beachside villa identified by intelligence informants as Abdulkadir's hideout, the fire directed against them by Shabaab forces intensified. They were clearly expected. Either the Somali terrorists had been braced for a US reprisal for the Nairobi attack or they been tipped off in advance.
Had they used a different strategy for their attack, possibly dropping from helicopter instead of the sea, or some other innovative means, they might have evaded notice.
5. As soon as they approached the villa, the SEALS team realized their man was gone. He had no more been waiting for them than did Aidid twenty years ago. Intelligence was at fault in both cases.
Their target had stage-managed the battle from a nearby villa
At that point, the US operational command based outside Somalia had to decide whether to expand the hunt to encompass the rest of the city or retreat. This time, they got it right.
Al Shabaab fighters had rushed from other parts of Barawe and its environs in the hope of trapping the Americans and there was an immediate necessity to scramble combat helicopters to head them off and forestall a large-scale assault on the SEAL team. This gave the special force time to withdraw to the beach and reach safety aboard the US warship which carried them to the mission.
6. Only after the US withdrawal and analysis of data collected from the Barawe villa did the operation commanders and their superiors in Washington grasp that their target, Abdulkadir and a group of fellow Al Shabaab high-ups had been stage-managing the battle from another villa nearby.
This was exactly how Aidid personally supervised the 1993 ambuscade of another US special force in Mogadishu.
With Abdulkadir in that villa command center was another wanted terrorist, Ahmed Godane, aka Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr, leader of the faction which claimed responsibility for the Nairobi shopping center attack.
DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources say that Al Shabaab will exploit to the hilt the kudos it won in dragging out the Westgate shopping mail attack and dodging the US special forces team for a campaign to attract more jihadist recruits to their flag.