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U.S. Airstrikes Target Al-Shabab Leadership

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A U.S. airstrike in Somalia this week targeted the leader of the Somali militant group, al-Shabab. That's the same al-Qaida affiliate which took responsibility for attacking a popular shopping mall in Kenya last year, killing dozens. The Pentagon says they are, quote, "assessing the results of the operation," which was reportedly carried out by drones.

We're joined now from London by Natznet Tesfay. She's with IHS Jane's, which analyzes defense and security issues. Thanks for joining us.

NATZNET TESFAY: Thank you.

GREENE: So what prompted this U.S. airstrike?

TESFAY: (Unintelligible) coordination with the African Union offensive that's currently been launched against al-Shabab as of last week. (Unintelligible) operation Indian Ocean where they're focusing on evicting al-Shabab from their remaining bases which are pretty much along the Somali shoreline. So the airstrikes were targeting a town called Baraawe, which is thought to be where the al-Shabab leader, Ahmed Godane, has been basing himself for a number of years now.

GREENE: The target was the head of al-Shabab. You just described him - Ahmed Abdi Godane. What can you tell us about him?

TESFAY: He's an individual who's just taken the group to a stage of killing, mostly within their senior leadership. It hasn't been necessarily confirmed - what the group was disputing about. Some say it was because there was ideological differences of whether or not it would remain a Somali nationalist movement with Islamist inclination, or it could be one that was aligned to the global jihadi agenda.

Godane's leadership was questioned, and we saw over the past few years that a number of senior leaders from the group were either targeted by his intelligence ring or they defected. And we saw with that, there was a number of territorial losses that the group had suffered because at the same time it was undergoing military pressure from the African Union mission in Somalia. (Unintelligible) because this latest offensive is just the latest in the succession of events that's trying to evict al-Shabab from southern Somalia more generally.

GREENE: You mentioned the internal conflict within the organization. If Godane was killed in this attack, what impact could that have on the group and its broader capabilities?

TESFAY: Godane was pretty much at the tail end of his drive to consolidate power under his position. And so it is very likely that he's been able to cement command and control structures within the group and very likely that they've already planned his succession, considering the U.S. has been targeting al-Shabab's leadership for a number of years now.

We do think that it will eventually have an impact on the group's ability to stage attacks beyond Somalia, as it's facing mounting pressures from (unintelligible) on it's bases within Somalia. And so the less the group has a conducive operating environment in Somalia, the less it's going to be able to plan, train, and orchestrate attacks outside Somali borders.

GREENE: Natznet Tesfay is with IHS Jane's, and she joined us from London. Thanks so much.

TESFAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.