It looks like we’re still using U.S. Navy warships to assassinate suspected terrorists in Somalia.  The New York Times said, “at least four Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from a Navy ship or submarine off the Somali coast had slammed into a small compound of single-story buildings in Dusa Marreb.”

The NYT’s source for that information was an “American military official in Washington, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operation.”  Notice how operations these days are “sensitive” as opposed to “classified” or “secret.”  One has to wonder how they arrived at a world like “sensitive” to describe things like cruise missile attacks that kill people.  Then again, so many of these missile strikes kill people other than the people they were intended to kill that yeah, I guess American military officials in Washington might get sensitive about that aspect.  The NYT reported that 10 to 30 people other than the intended target were killed this time, and we can be pretty sure that part of the story is mostly true because the NYT didn’t get it from an anonymous American military official.
The Associated Press actually got two of its sources to agree to be identified. Captain Jamie Graybeal, a Central Command spokesman, confirmed that there was, in fact, a U.S. airstrike on the Somali town.  I’m thinking Captain Graybeal must be a navy captain, which is like an army bird colonel, which means an older guy with lots of experience and credibility.  If Graybeal is an army captain, that makes him like a navy lieutenant, which means he’s a guy in his twenties who wouldn’t have the experience of a navy captain or a bird colonel, and not a whole lot of credibility either.  It doesn’t seem like Central Command would have a spokesman who was just an army captain, but you can’t tell for sure.  

AP identified the other  “U.S. military spokesman” as a guy named Bob Prucha, who said that the attack was against a “known al-Qaida target and militia leader in Somalia.”  Interestingly enough, AP didn’t mention military spokesman Bob Prucha’s rank, which makes me think he either hasvery little of it or none at all.  How much if any rank Graybeal and Prucha actually have will probably remain a mystery, but maybe that’s not too important because “Both declined to provide further details.”  How convenient.

Later in the article AP said that “another U.S. defense official” confirmed that the strike targeted Aden Hashi Ayro, who later still in the article AP identified as the leader of a militia called “al-Shabab” which, as you probably noticed, is spelled differently than “al-Qaeda.” AP didn’t explain how Ayro went from being part of al-Qaeda toward the beginning of the story to being part of al-Shabab toward the end, or if there is a connection between the two that more or less makes them the same thing.  

The BBC’s version of the story stated “The U.S. says al-Shabab is part of the al-Qaeda network, although correspondents say it is impossible to accurately establish those links,” and “Al-Shabab leaders say it is a purely Somali movement and they deny any involvement with al-Qaeda.”  The BBC didn’t identify the correspondents who say it’s impossible to accurately establish links between al-Shabab and al-Qaeda, so we’re caught between the say so of the U.S. on one hand and what al-Shabab leaders say on the other.  Like me at this point in our woebegone war on terror, you might be inclined to grant “al-Shabab leaders” more credibility than “The U.S.” but for now, unfortunately, whatever relationship may or may not exist between al-Shabab and al-Qaeda will remain as big a mystery as what military ranks Captain Graybeal and Mr. Prucha may or may not possess.  

It may also be important to note that the aforementioned “another U.S. defense official” who confirmed that Ayro was the strike’s target “sought anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record” which is Rovewellian for “this source is authorized to plant disinformation anonymously.”

Who Are Those Guys?

The AP story said that U.S. missiles “destroyed” Ayro’s house, “killing him and 10 others.”  The NYT story said that the strike “apparently killed” Ayro, and that the sensitive American military official in Washington and “two American intelligence officials” stated that “all indications were that Mr. Ayro was killed” but that “the attack was still being assessed.”

A Dusamareeb resident told AP that the “The bodies were beyond recognition” and a local doctor said identifying the dead would prove difficult as the al-Shabab villa and surrounding area were now scorched earth, so unless Somalia’s dental record keeping system is a lot more advanced than I suspect it is, I don’t see how those two American intelligence officials are going to do any further assessing of whether or not the strike killed Ayro.  

I could find no further clarity on whether a “Navy ship or submarine” fired the cruise missiles that maybe did and maybe didn’t kill Ayro.  Actually, we know it was a ship because the Navy calls its submarines “ships” these days.  The real question is whether the ship was one of three classes of active Navy submarines or a surface combatant.  Today’s surface combatants cost less than submarines because the surface combatants don’t have nuclear power plants and they don’t operate underwater unless something goes real wrong.  But whichever kind of ship it was, it cost a ridiculous amount of money to be doing something like assassinating a terrorist, especially if it failed to kill the terrorist it was trying to assassinate, so you can rest easy that you once again got maximum buck for the bang on your defense dollar.

You can also be assured that whether the strike whacked Ayro or not, it did more harm than good.  Al-Shabab spokesman Mukhtar Robow Adumansur (the Shababs apparently haven’t learned about anonymous sourcing yet) says his group will conduct revenge attacks, and “analysts” say the air raid could put the kibosh on pending U.N. sponsored peace talks.

What’s more, be reasonably confident that whether the ship that shot the cruise missiles was the kind of ship that sails underwater or not, shooting those missiles into Somalia was as legal as a blue dollar bill.  As is the case with Pakistan, Mr. Bush has an agreement with the puppet government of Somalia that allows him to run air strikes in that country.  The trouble is, the U.S. Constitution and laws don’t authorize foreign governments, puppet or otherwise, to allow presidents to order troops into combat, and Mr. Bush still doesn’t have a declaration of war or Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to be ordering air strikes in either Pakistan or Somalia like he’s supposed to according to the War Powers Resolution of 1973.  You’d think our elected officials in Congress would be all het up about that, but the press isn’t saying anything about it, so they’re not.  

To sum up: we’re executing counterterrorism tactics that are exorbitant and counterproductive, Mr. Bush is behaving like a dictator, Congress is letting him get away with it, and our guarantors of freedom in the fourth estate are too busy courting anonymous officials to do much of anything else.

In other words, don’t panic.  Everything is business as usual.  

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword .  Jeff’s novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) is on sale now.

“Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served.” — Publishers Weekly

“A remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight.” — Booklist

View the trailer here.

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