Up to six people, including at least one possible civilian, were killed and at least two possible civilians were wounded, as a US-launched raid targeted and reportedly killed a high value al Qaeda/ al Shabab member, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, international media reported.
The attack marked the first known lethal operation by US forces in Somalia of the Obama administration.
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 Daily 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, including Army Times. However, NPR reported that SEAL commandos fired missiles into Nabhan’s car.
The Army Times and Daily Beast stated that one helicopter also 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 that the US Special Forces wanted to increase their use of Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE), “not just to kill terror targets but to rummage through their belongings”, but that “the president was not supportive” and that this became a bone of contention between Special Ops and the Obama administration.
It was unclear among sources how many militants exactly were killed, and whether civilians were among the victims. While both the Guardian and Long War Journal said that two people were killed (Nabhan and another terrorist), Mareeg, which also reported two deaths, only noted that one of them was a belligerent, suggesting a civilian fatality.
The number of killed militants thus spans from two to six, as reported by Army Times, while one civilian death cannot be excluded.
Several sources reported that the attack also wounded two people, whose combatant status again remains unclear among reports.
The local time of the incident is unknown.
Sources (12) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention that the strike targeted a vehicle as it travelled through a village near Baraawe, heading south from Mogadishu. The coordinates for the town of Baraawe are: 1.112554, 44.028921. Due to limited information and satellite imagery available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.
US Forces Assessment:
Original strike reports
TIME, September 9th, 2009:
"The deadly drama of piracy, terrorism and humanitarian catastrophe that is Somalia took another twist on Sept. 14. A squad of U.S. special operations helicopter gunships, which were launched off a Navy vessel in the Indian Ocean, attacked and killed an alleged al-Qaeda leader in Somalia, U.S. officials told TIME. The dead man was believed to be Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a 28-year-old Kenyan wanted for attacks on a seaside hotel and an Israeli airliner in 2002 in Kenya."