In a press conference yesterday, Pentagon Press Sec. Rear Admiral Kirby, affirmed that the US airstrikes in Somalia were truly just airstrikes and there were no troops on the ground. Pulitzer prize winning journalist Jeffrey Gettleman and his colleagues always provide meaningful insights about what’s happening in East Africa. In this piece about the airstrikes and whether they killed the intended target, Ahmed Abdi Godand, the leader of Al Shabaab, he writes:
One American official in Nairobi said that “we’re 80 percent sure” Mr. Godane was killed in the strike. Still, militants in places like Yemen and Pakistan have been thought to be killed in drone strikes just like this one, only to resurface weeks or months later, crowing about having survived American attempts to kill them.
One of the most intersting parts of this article is how it describes Mr. Godane’s brutality, including blocking food aid during the Somali famine in 2011:
Mr. Godane has been the driving force behind turning what was once a poor, obscure local militant group in a country many had forgotten into one of the most fearsome Qaeda franchises in the world. At the height of its power, the Shabab, under Mr. Godane’s merciless leadership, controlled more square miles of territory than just about any other Qaeda offshoot.
Mr. Godane, thought to be around 40 years old, has 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 last year. He has presided over a reign of terror inside Somalia for several years, organizing the stoning of teenage girls and crude public amputations, all part of an effort to place Somalia under a harsh interpretation of Islamic rule.
During Somalia’s famine in 2011, when more than 200,000 people died, Mr. Godane gave the orders to block food supplies from reaching starving people. His masked fighters even diverted rivers from famished farmers. Mr. Godane has also taken the Shabab’s violence international by organizing suicide attacks in Kenya and Uganda.
As it seems the world is on fire, and so many people are being terrorized or trying to survive in the midst of wars with great humanitarian losses in East Africa (and of Syria, Iraq, Gaza), I am very curious about what makes people like Mr. Godane do the things he does. This passage about how he was once a star student, is fascinating and also important. We shouldn’t assume the people waging the terror are unintelligent:
According to a recent book on the Shabab written by Stig Jarle Hansen, a professor in Norway, Mr. Godane was once a star pupil, winning scholarships to study economics outside Somalia, though soon enough he abandoned the classroom, traveling to Afghanistan and then falling into jihadist circles. In the early 2000s, he returned to Somalia, where, according to the local authorities, he helped plan the murder of several aid workers.
I can’t help but wonder that if, along with our missile strikes, we took time to understand what made Mr. Gadone “abandon the classroom”, perhaps we could all be safer sooner. (And perhaps not).