My latest for Policy Mic (originally published here: http://www.policymic.com/articles/67315/drone-attacks-navy-raids-it-s-time-for-a-new-strategy-in-the-war-on-terror)
Shortly after the terrorist attack on a Kenyan mall (and one day after the 20th anniversary of the infamous Black Hawk Down incident in Mogadishu, Somalia), U.S. Navy SEALs raided a seaside town in Somalia, reportedly aiming that reportedly aimed . Their reported aim was to capture or kill Abdukadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, also known as Ikrima, a Kenyan national who has allegedly been involved in plotting terror attacks against Kenyan targets such as the parliament and the U.N. headquarters complex in Nairobi. He is also considered to be a member of Al-Shabaab, the group that carried out the recent mall attack in Kenya, as well as Al-Qaeda.
The raid took place last weekend, as did a similar raid (this time comprised of the Army’s Delta Force) in Libya targeting Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, alias Anas al-Libi. U.S. courts indicted al-Libi in 2000 for his alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The Libya raid succeeded in capturing its target, while; the Somalia raid did not. Some have suggested these raids could indicate a shift away from the controversial drone strike program in favor of special- operations raids. Other analysts have said it is too soon to tell, and that other factors could have contributed to the decision to send in the SEALs.
But in a way, targeted drone strikes and special operations raids are two sides of the same coin. Both: both enable a form of limited military strike that, as administration lawyers interpret it, do not require Congressional approval, and allows the military to continue to avoid the sort of large-scale intervention that the president has made it a goal to steer clear of.
Indeed, Obama has made it clear that tactics like this, whether they take the form of Special Forces raids or drone strikes, should continue to be expected. When he judges local governments to lack the capacity to pursue terrorist targets, “We’re going to have to continue to go after them,” he said.
The Somalia raid raises a number of questions. One is legal. President Obama has stated that the raid was authorized under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, initially passed in September 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. attacks. But that still doesn’t answer whether the administration is using a broad interpretation of AUMF, which would allow it to target not just members of Al-Qaeda, but members of “associated forces,” such as Al-Shabaab, or whether they are using a narrow interpretation and would only target people like Ikrima, who is allegedly a member of both organizations.
A tweet by the Pentagon press secretary, George Little, specifically identified Ikrima as a militant of Al-Shabaab, not Al-Qaeda, which may indicate that the administration is going with the broader interpretation.
Just as important as the legal question, though, is the strategic one: Does this method of fighting the war on terror make sense in the long run?
There are several strong indications that it does not.
One, perhaps most obviously, is the issue of blowback. Some believe that the abduction of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan earlier this week was done in retaliation for his government’s perceived cooperation with the U.S. in the raid. These kinds of military action alienate the people who could be our allies in fighting extremism.
Bigger than that, however, is the argument that raids like last weekend’s, and the targeted drone strike program, are just tactics in search of a real strategy. As terrorist organizations like Al-Shabaab and, Al-Qaeda, and any of an array of similar networks become more diffuse and, less concentrated, and begin to overlap in new ways, any sort of victory becomes ever more elusive. The targets keep multiplying, rather than decreasing.
Finally, consider the countries in which these raids take place, targeting concentrations of extremists: Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen, to name a few. All are plagued with instability, which is what enables terrorist networks to flourish there. Raids and drone strikes do nothing to change that state of affairs, and, as the kidnapping of Zeidan illustrates, may make such chronic instability even worse.
It is past time for the “War on Terror” to focus less on “kinetic” solutions, and more on the kind of diplomacy and aid relationships that can strengthen governance in these countries. That would be the basis for an actual long-term strategy.