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Black Hawk Down lessons reverberate 20 years later

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

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It's not surprising that the Navy SEAL raid in Somalia Oct. 4 was called off soon after it began, according to a senior military official.

The seaside hamlet where the target, Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, also known as "Ikrima," teemed with civilians. Pressing the raid further, the official said, would have put innocent people at risk.

The official, who has been briefed about the raid, provided details of the operation on the raid on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make them public. The Pentagon acknowledges that the raid's goal was to snatch Ikrima, a top commander of al-Shabab, the terrorist group responsible for the massacre at the Westgate mall in Nairobi last month.

The safety of the SEALs was equally important, the official said. It doesn't take long for angry, armed mobs to form in Somalia. The lessons of "Black Hawk Down" clearly inform Pentagon planning and execution of raids.

It's 20 years to the month when a raid to capture another militant leader in Somalia went awry. Angry, armed militants poured into the streets of Mogadishu after the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters used to ferry troops to the fight. The battle claimed the lives of 18 U.S. troops and hundreds of Somalis.

No SEALs were hurt in the raid on Saturday, the official said.

The Pentagon is targeting al-Shabab as an affiliate of al-Qaeda and has linked it to the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya in 1998 and deadly attacks on an airliner and hotel in Kenya in 2002.

Ikrima remains free but the raid no doubt rattled him, the official said. He has to be concerned about informants in his inner circle. He also has to worry that he's on the SEALs' list, not exactly a prescription for a long, quiet life.

"U.S. military personnel conducted the operation with unparalleled precision and demonstrated that the United States can put direct pressure on al-Shabab leadership at any time of our choosing," Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement.

The official also pointed out that U.S. special operators were successful this weekend in Libya, nabbing Abu Anas al-Libi, another al Qaeda operative. No U.S. troops were hurt in that raid, either.

Batting .500 in complicated, high-risk operations with no casualties is a pretty good average, the official said. It will get you into Cooperstown.


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