Do the Libyan and Somali Raids Signal a Drone Drawdown?

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
10/08/2013
       
Do the Libyan and Somali Raids Signal a Drone Drawdown?

Does the president's use of military operatives to conduct the missions in Libya and Somalia point to a reduced dependence on drones?

On October 5, two teams of U.S. special forces units carried out separate operations in Africa, one in Libya and the other in Somalia.

In the Libyan raid, the Army’s Delta Force commandos captured Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Anas al-Libi. The purported al-Qaeda leader is suspected of participating in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, on August 7, 1998.

About the same time, about 4,300 miles to the southeast, the famed SEAL Team Six stormed a Somali coastal location believed to be the hideout of an al-Qaeda “senior commander” known by the name Ikrimah.

That mission, however, was not so successful after the team was spotted approaching land, losing the stealth advantage they rely so heavily upon. 

After the SEALs were detected by suspected comrades of Ikrimah, a firefight broke out. While the U.S. team reportedly suffered no casualties, reports claim that “one or two of Ikrimah’s men are believed to have been killed or wounded.” Ikrimah was neither killed nor captured and is reportedly still at large.

While the two missions have much in common — both were carried out by highly skilled, highly secretive, U.S. special ops teams targeting alleged al-Qaeda agents — they have another, less obvious similarity, too.

Notably, neither of these high-risk raids featured drone attacks. While the unmanned aerial vehicles may have played a surveillance role in the operations, the deadly aspect of the assaults was carried out by humans carrying conventional weapons.

Is this indicative of a tactical shift on the part of President Obama? Has he decided to take the tack he proposed in May’s foreign policy speech at the National Defense University?

"I think this goes along with this policy that they are trying to move counter-terrorism operations from CIA to Defense, and trying to operate less with drones," an unnamed “senior congressional aide” told the Los Angeles Times.

As if this approach to waging the “War on Terror” is nothing new, a Pentagon spokesman said, as quoted in The Atlantic, “Wherever possible, our first priority is and always has been to apprehend terrorist suspects, and to preserve the opportunity to elicit valuable intelligence that can help us protect the American people.”

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