WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. commando raids in Libya and Somalia suggest the future shape of U.S. counterterrorism efforts — brief, targeted raids against highly sought extremist figures — and highlight the rise of Africa as a terrorist haven.
The strikes also raise questions about where to interrogate and try captured terrorist suspects such as Abu Anas al-Libi, accused by the U.S. of involvement in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday that al-Libi was in U.S. custody. A U.S. official familiar with the case said later that al-Libi was taken aboard a U.S. warship in the region for questioning. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release details.
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, said al-Libi has “vast intelligence value.”
McKeon, R-Calif., said President Barack Obama should “fully exploit this potential” before moving on to his prosecution. The White House seemed to agree, saying Saturday’s raid in Tripoli was specifically designed to apprehend, not kill, the suspect.
“The president has made clear our preference for capturing terrorist targets when possible, and that’s exactly what we’ve done in order to elicit as much valuable intelligence as we can and bring a dangerous terrorist to justice,” said the White House National Security Council’s spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden.
The outcome of a second U.S. commando raid Saturday, targeting a leader of the al-Qaida affiliated terror group, al-Shabab, was less clear.
A Navy SEAL team swam ashore in Somalia early in the morning and engaged in a fierce firefight. A U.S. official said afterward the Americans disengaged after inflicting some al-Shabab casualties, but it was unclear who was hit. The official was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The raid in Somalia reflected the importance the Obama administration attaches to combating al-Shabab, whose leaders are believed to be collaborating more with other al-Qaida affiliated Islamic insurgent groups across Africa.
In a speech in May outlining his strategy for the use of drones, Obama counted Somalia as among the places where the U.S. and its allies face “lethal yet less capable al-Qaida affiliates.”
The commando assaults unfolded against the backdrop of political paralysis in Washington, where the Congress and the White House are locked in battle over budgets but have agreed to keep the military operating and paid on time.
Libya said Sunday it has asked the United States for “clarifications” regarding the capture of al-Libi by U.S. Delta Force commandos.