By lex, on July 2nd, 2011
The US is now plinking Shabab militia leaders with al Qaeda links, according to the Gray Lady, in a headline entitled, “U.S. Expands Its Drone War into Somalia”:
The clandestine American military campaign to combat Al Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen is expanding to fight the Islamist militancy in Somalia, as new evidence indicates that insurgents in the two countries are forging closer ties and possibly plotting attacks against the United States, American officials say.
An American military drone aircraft attacked several Somalis in the militant group the Shabab late last month, the officials said, killing at least one of its midlevel operatives and wounding others.
The strike was carried out by the same Special Operations Command unit now battling militants in Yemen, and it represented an intensification of an American military campaign in a mostly lawless region where weak governments have allowed groups with links to Al Qaeda to flourish.
The Obama administration’s increased focus on Somalia comes as the White House has unveiled a new strategy to battle Al Qaeda in the post-Osama bin Laden era, and as some American military and intelligence officials view Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia as a greater threat to the United States than the group of operatives in Pakistan who have been barraged with hundreds of drone strikes directed by the Central Intelligence Agency in recent years.
There is even an element of “boots on deck,” albeit dashing in and dashing out:
US military forces landed in Somalia to retrieve the bodies of dead or wounded militants after a US drone strike targeted a group of insurgents, Somalia’s defense minister said yesterday.
The operation is at least the second time US troops have landed in Somalia after a targeted strike, though no forces have been stationed there since shortly after the “Black Hawk Down’’ battle that left 18 Americans dead in 1993…
Faqi said the June 23 attack was carried out by a US drone, and US forces picked up militants who were either killed or injured. Residents in Kismayo reported hearing helicopters hovering overhead the night of the operation.
Kill ‘em where they’re found, says I, although I will note that back-of-the-napkin math makes this war number six for Nobel Peace Prize winner Barrack Obama: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and now, Somalia. And contra the Libya/Syria distinction with one crucial difference, at least no one can claim that this is a “war for oil.” So far as I can tell, Somalia exports nothing but taxi cab drivers.
Perhaps predictably, all of this antiseptic death-from-above business is giving some among the chattering class a case of the vapors. The WaPo‘s Eugene Robinson wonders at the morality of all this:
This is a program not of war but of assassination. Clearly, someone like Ayman al-Zawahiri — formerly Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command, now the leader of al-Qaeda — is a legitimate target. But what about others such as the Somali “militants” who may wish to do us harm but have not actually done so? Are we certain that they have the capability of mounting some kind of attack? Absent any overt act, is there a point at which antipathy toward the United States, even hatred, becomes a capital offense?
As criticisms go, this is pretty weak beer, very far from the spittle-flecked invective which was flung at President Obama’s predecessor, and would have been flung at President McCain, had it come down to that. I presume that President Obama’s national security team has a pretty good reason for launching drone strikes on Shabab, and it probably isn’t just because there is excess drone capacity lying about. But I also presumed the same rational analysis when President Bush sent helicopter strikes into Somalia in 2007 and again in 2009.
The difference, it seems to me, is that conservatives generally tend to grant to liberals their good intentions, confining their critiques to efficacy and affordability. Too many liberals, especially of the chattering class, tend to assume that conservatives are either stupid or actively evil. Thus in Robinson’s world, President Bush’s 2007 ultimately successful surge strategy was a “fantasy-based escalation of the war in Iraq, which could only make sense in some parallel universe where pigs fly and fish commute on bicycles.”
That was back when there were only two wars to worry about. Now that there are six, Robinson softly worries that “this method of waging war is cost-effective but not that it is moral.”
So take that, Mr. President.