The CIA is reported to have used unmanned drones to target leaders of al-Q'aida's affiliate in Somalia for the first time, attacks coinciding with the unveiling of a new US counterterrorism strategy shifting the war on terror away from costly battlefields and toward expanded covert operations.
The strikes in Somalia, which last week apparently wounded two leaders of the al-Shabab militant group, bring to six the number of countries where the missile-armed drones have been deployed: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Iraq, and now the lawless country in East Africa which officials here increasingly identify as a major terrorist base after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
US officials quoted by The Washington Post yesterday claimed the two individuals targeted had "direct ties" to Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born cleric now based in Yemen who is believed to be a senior planner in al-Q'aida's operations. In May, al-Alwaki himself was targeted by a drone attack, but managed to escape.
There were also indications that al-Shabab intended to widen its operations outside Somalia. The group had become "somewhat emboldened of late" and as a result, the officials declared, "we have become more focused on inhibiting their activities".
If confirmed, the strikes in Somalia would fit the new approach set out in the 19-page "National Strategy for Counterterrorism" released this week by the White House, and presented by John Brennan, President Barack Obama's top anti-terrorism advise