Wall Street Journal on October 6, 2013, in a leading article said that the tide of war against al Qaeda is expanding, as two weekend raids by U.S. commandos illustrate. The raids show the skill and reach of American special forces, but also the enduring nature of this conflict with Islamists and the need to counter its African expansion. Excerpts below:
Special forces and U.S. intelligence scored a major victory in snatching Abu Anas al-Libi outside his home in Tripoli in Libya. Al-Libi is wanted as one of the plotters behind the 1998 bombing of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 and injured more than 4,000 innocents. The al Qaeda leader had resettled in Tripoli after the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, taking advantage of the new government’s weakness.
Al-Libi ought to be an intelligence gold mine if the Obama Administration is willing to extract it. U.S. officials are saying he is likely to be tried eventually in U.S. criminal court. But for now he is probably on a U.S. Navy vessel, where he can be interrogated safe from American civilian due process.
Al-Libi ought to be brought to Guantanamo as an illegal enemy combatant and tried by military commission. But it apparently offends the Obama Administration’s political sensibilities less to keep captured killers on board a ship for weeks instead.
The benefit of capturing such men, as opposed to firing a missile from a drone, is to gain intelligence to stop future attacks. The Obama Administration has captured very few al Qaeda operatives and as a result we know less than we should about the ways that al Qaeda is decentralizing and expanding in Africa. Let’s hope it doesn’t offer al-Libi a Miranda warning.
Navy SEALs were less successful in a raid on the al-Shabaab branch of al Qaeda in Somalia. They withdrew after taking fire and as a precaution against causing civilian casualties. The U.S. hoped to capture a leader of al-Shabaab, which carried out last month’s attack on a shopping mall in Nairobi that killed at least 69 people.
Success or not, the Obama Administration deserves credit for undertaking both raids. These are high-risk missions and not every one will work as well as the grab in Tripoli. But it’s vital to U.S. security to take these risks. We learned on 9/11 that terrorists can strike the U.S. if they are allowed to create sanctuaries even half a world away.
The Administration has seemed reluctant to act forcefully against al Qaeda in Africa lest it undermine President Obama’s claim that the terror network is defeated. The raids are a tacit admission that Mr. Obama has been overselling victory, but we’re nonetheless glad to see the U.S. going back on offense.