Center for Strategic Communication

View Larger Map

Al Qaeda’s affiliate in East Africa claimed it repelled a nighttime raid by Western special operations forces in the southern Somali coastal town of Barawe. The location of the purported raid is the same town where a top al Qaeda and Shabaab commander was killed by US special operations forces four years ago.

“Local witnesses reported on VOA Somali Service that unidentified foreign troops ‘came from the coast with boats and helicopters’ and raided a house in Barawe around 2am local time Saturday morning,” according to Garowe Online.

Shabaab’s military spokesman, Sheikh Abdulaziz Abu Musab, confirmed the report and said that his fighters “repelled” the attack.

“We fought back against the white infidel soldiers with bombs and bullets, and they ran back to their boats,” he said according to Garowe Online. “One member of Al Shabaab was killed and the white infidel soldiers failed their mission. We found blood and equipment near the coast in the morning.”

Fighting between Shabaab forces and the unidentified Western troops lasted for more than an hour, Abu Musab claimed.

US Navy SEALs carried out the raid in Barawe which targets a senior Shabaab commander, according to The New York Times. It is unclear if the commander was killed in the raid. The Department of Defense’s spokesman confirmed the raid was carried out but did not provide details.

“This operation was aimed at capturing a high value al-Shabaab terrorist leader,” an unnamed Department of Defense official said on background. “No US personnel were injured or killed. US personnel took all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties in this operation and disengaged after inflicting some al Shabaab casualties. We are not in a position to identify those casualties.”

Barawe, which is halfway between Kismayo and Marka, is a known command and control hub for Shabaab. The coastal town is fully under the control of Shabaab, despite an offensive that was launched by Somali and African Union forces more than two years ago. Kenyan forces attacked Shabaab forces from the south and took control of Kismayo, but halted their advance after taking the southern city. Shabaab still controls much of the rural areas of Somalia as well as several smaller towns.

US and French special operations forces are known to have operated in Somalia in the past. In one of the two most high-profile raids, US special operations forces killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in Barawe in September 2009. Nabhan was one of the most sought out al Qaeda operatives in Africa. He was wanted for involvement in al Qaeda’s 1998 suicide attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He served as a top leader in both Shabaab and Al Qaeda East Africa, and also was instrumental in facilitating the official merger between al Qaeda and Shabaab.

Most recently, in January 2013, French commandos launched a failed raid in the town of Bula Marer to free a French intelligence official who was captured by Shabaab in 2009. Shabaab fighters repelled the attack and captured a French commando, who later died in custody. Shabaab released photographs of the captured soldier and weapons and gear seized during the raid, and then executed the French intelligence official.

The US has also conducted several air strikes and naval bombardments against Shabaab in the past. In one such attack, Sheikh Aden Hashi Ayro, the military commander of Shabaab, was killed during a US airstrike in May 2008.

Today’s reported raid took place just two weeks after Shabaab forces launched a deadly, Mumbai-like raid on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that resulted in the deaths of more than 65 civilians, including Europeans and Americans. Shabaab assault teams executed civilians and controlled the mall for 80 hours before explosions led to the collapse of a section of the four-story mall, which ended the siege.