US hits back


T he simultaneous weekend raids by US special forces in Somalia and Libya represented both retaliation for the recent Kenyan shopping mall massacre and a sign of a more general US assertiveness in stepping up a targeted campaign against terrorism in north Africa. Even if successful in capturing only one of their targets, Abu Anas al-Liby in Tripoli, the message was unequivocally delivered – there are no no-go areas for US forces, no safe hiding places for al-Qaeda.

For the world community, unstated political sympathy with the US will be mixed with concerns about legality – clear violations of sovereignty – and about the locus of any trial. The lawfulness of the raids depends on the consent of both states, and while the Somali government has expressed support, the Libyans, wary of a domestic political backlash, are implying that they did not know of the raid in advance and complained of “kidnap”.

The US position initially was to assert that Tripoli was in the picture, and then, perhaps sensitive to its predicament, spokesmen became more coy about the “specifics of the communication”. More questions have been stymied by the partial closedown of the Justice Department press service because of the Republican-provoked funds freeze. It appears likely the US did get consent, with deniability.

Abu Anas was indicted in New York in 2000, for his alleged role in bombing US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania two years earlier, and President Obama will have to decide whether to try him in Guantanamo or the federal court. But to put him into the discredited Guantanamo system would be a serious political mistake.

From Nigeria in the west, across Mali, Algeria, Libya, to Somalia and Kenya in the east, Africa has seen major attacks on its own people and Western economic interests, including an Algerian desert gas plant, the Nairobi supermarket and the killing of the US ambassador in Libya a year ago. The US action this weekend marks the opening of a qualitatively new phase in response.