Get the data: Somalia’s hidden war

February 22nd, 2012 | by Drones Team | The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
US and UK covert operations in Somalia
US Special Forces AC-130 gunships have been the primary platform for attacks in Somalia (Lockheed Martin/ Flikr)The Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is the lead agency in the covert ‘war on terror’ in Somalia, although the CIA also has a strong regional presence.

The US has been carrying out extensive covert military operations inside Somalia since 2001, as a major six-part investigation by the US Army Times recently revealed.

Elite troops from the Pentagon’s JSOC are routinely deployed on the ground for surveillance, reconnaissance, and assault and capture operations. In June 2011, the US began carrying out drone strikes in Somalia. JSOC has its own fleet of armed Reaper drones, which are flown from various bases in the region.

The CIA also operates a secret base at Mogadishu airport, according to a detailed investigation by Jeremy Scahill at The Nation. Unarmed US surveillance drones also regularly fly from the airport, according to a well-informed Bureau source. While some of these are part of the US ‘war on terror’, many provide support for peacekeeping operations in the region.

The US’s primary target is currently al Shabaab, the militant group which controls much of the country’s south. On February 9 2012, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri announced that al Shabaab had formally become a franchise of al Qaeda.

In recent years, both Kenya and Ethiopia have invaded parts of Somalia, the latter allegedly with the military aid of the US. JSOC forces are reported to have taken advantage of these events to carry out more intensive operations against militants, often using helicopters, airstrikes, AC-130 gunships and ‘boots on the ground’.

Related story: Militants and civilians killed in multiple US Somalia strikes

Key reports of operations in Somalia

The Bureau has collated credible reports of known covert operations and other events in Somalia relating to the ‘war on terror’. These are drawn from major international news media and agencies, political and military memoirs and papers, and academic research. All sources are transparently presented.

Given the nature of covert operations and the difficulties in reporting from Somalia, the Bureau understands that this is an incomplete record. We welcome corrections and additions.

2001 – 2005 


In 2001, the Bush administration reportedly considered military strikes against Somalia, accusing it of having ties to al Qaeda. Action was abandoned because of insufficient intelligence. ‘Somalia has been a place that has harboured al Qaeda and, to my knowledge, still is’, then-defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in 2001. Military flights in P-3 aircraft conducted surveillance while an increased numbers of US ships and submarines patrolled the Somali coastline. Reportedly about 100 US Special Forces operated in the country, similar to early incursions into Afghanistan. On December 2, 2001, the UK Daily Telegraph reported that the US had asked the UK for assistance in planning strikes on ‘terror bases’ in Somalia.

Location: Somalia various
 Menkhaus 2004The GuardianAfrica ConfidentialThe TelegraphThe Telegraph


November 2001

Washington placed Hassan Dahir Aweys (pictured) on its terrorist list. Aweys was the head of the 90-member shura council of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) of Somalia and was viewed as one of its more radical leaders. The US also declared the suspected terrorist Fazul Abdullah Mohamed was operating within Somali borders. Sanctions on individuals soon expanded to groups. On November 7 2001, the US Treasury blocked the assets of the largest Somali telecommunications and remittance network, al-Barakaat. According to a November 2001 press release by the White House, al-Barakaat offices ‘raise, manage and distribute funds for al-Qaeda; provide terrorist supporters with Internet service and secure telephone communications; and arrange for the shipment of weapons’.

Location: Washington DC, Mogadishu
ReferencesDe Waal & Salam 2004International Crisis GroupHarper 2007Menkhaus 2004George W Bush Archive


Late 2001, early 2002

A major investigation by the US Army Times has revealed that in the first years following the September 11 attacks, there were rumours of potential al Qaeda training camps in Ras Kamboni, a coastal town about two miles from the Kenyan border. ‘We were throwing people at Ras Kamboni … in late ‘01, early ‘02,‘ an intelligence source with long experience in the Horn of Africa told reporter Sean D. Naylor. Looking specifically at JSOC, an intelligence source told Naylor that ‘between 2001 and 2004, JSOC never had more than three people at a time in Somalia’.

Location: Ras Kamboni
References: Army TimesArmy TimesDe Waal & Salam 2004

Between 2001 and 2004, JSOC never had more than three people at a time in Somalia’ – US intelligence source 


March 19 2003

A team of US commandos snatched suspected al Qaeda terrorist Suleiman Abdallah from a hospital in Mogadishu and transported him out of the country for questioning. ‘Staff at the Kaysaney Red Cross Hospital said a six-man team in plain clothes snatched the suspect from his bed and rushed him to an airstrip in a raid lasting only minutes. It appears that the Americans were working with a militia faction that controls the area around the hospital in the north of the city’, the Telegraph reported. The TFG told the Telegraph the US team included ‘4 or 5‘ FBI agents. Matt Bryden, coordinator for the UN monitoring group on Somalia, and Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group, wrote in autumn 2003 that Abdallah was a Yemeni national:

Although intelligence officials have not publicly disclosed evidence linking Abdallah to any terrorist acts, he was found to be in possession of a list of former and serving US government officials, suggesting a planned attack on American targets.

Abdallah was captured ‘by a notorious warlord named Mohammed Dheere‘, legal charity Reprieve told the Bureau. He was then ‘sold to the CIA and then rendered to Djibouti, Kenya and Afghanistan‘. Abdallah was held by the US for ‘over five years in incommunicado detention in the Salt Pit, the Dark Prison and Bagram Airforce Base‘, before being released in 2008. The case has been documented in a UN secret detention report.

Type of action: Ground operation, rendition
: Mogadishu
ReferencesBoston College International & Comparative Law Review Daily TelegraphJournal of Conflict StudiesReprieveUN


November 2003

US special forces infiltrated Somalian waters in 2003 and planted a dozen or more concealed cameras, as part of Operations Cobalt Blue and Poison Scepter, the Army Times revealed. According to reporter Sean D. Naylor, on January 12 2004 a fisherman discovered one of the cameras. ‘Asked what the secret camera missions achieved, the intel source with long experience on the Horn answered bluntly: “Nothing”.’

Type of action: Ground operation, surveillance
 Northern/eastern coast of Somalia
Reference: Army Times



Again according to Sean D. Naylor of the Army Times, beginning in 2003 teams of CIA case officers and ‘shooters’ from a special operations unit – Task Force Orange – flew into Somalia from Nairobi. Initially the teams gathered intelligence. ‘They soon expanded to include working with warlords to hunt al-Qaida members, tapping cellphones, purchasing [back] anti-aircraft missiles and, ultimately, developing a deeper understanding of al-Qaida’s East African franchise and how it fit into the wider al-Qaida network,’ Naylor reported. In an effort to develop targets, the CIA, supported by TF Orange, ran a series of missions into Mogadishu to ‘seed’ the city with devices that monitored mobile phone traffic, according to a senior military official. Mobile phone tapping targets included Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of the original al-Qaida in East Africa leaders, as well as two senior figures in Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militia: Aden Hashi Ayro, who allegedly trained in al Qaeda’s Afghanistan camps, and Ahmed Abdi Godane, the group’s leader from 2009 to 2010, according to the intelligence official.

Location: Mogadishu
Reference: Army Times


Late 2003 to early 2004

Interest in Ras Kamboni resumed in late 2003 to early 2004, when US personnel flew over the town but saw no sign of any training camps. At that time, the US were also paying ‘unilateral assets’ – spies – to enter southern Somalia, including Ras Kamboni, and report on what they observed. Paid $1,000 – $2,000 a month, these were ‘Somalis who had businesses in the region, Somalis who had reason to be there,’ the source said. ‘People we could depend on.’ According to the International Crisis Group, key individuals paid by the US for counter-terrorism included ‘Mohamed Omar Habeeb (aka Mohamed Dheere, regional ‘governor’ of the Middle Shabelle), Bashir Raghe (a northern Mogadishu businessman), Mohamed Qanyare Afrah Hussein Aydiid, and Generals Mohamed Nur Galal and Ahmed Hili’ow Addow’. By 2006, the US was paying Somali militants up to $150,000 a month for their support.

Location: Ras Kamboni
References: Army TimesInternational Crisis GroupPrendergast & Thomas-Jensen


June 2004

One night in June 2004, Mohammed Ali Isse was captured in a CIA-ordered raid on his Mogadishu safe house by the Americans. A Somalilander, Isse was reportedly radicalised by the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now serving a life sentence for masterminding the killings of four foreign aid workers, including two British teachers, in late 2003 and early 2004. Mohamed Afrah Qanyare, a ‘scar-faced warlord in a business suit’, told the Chicago Tribune: ‘I captured Isse for the Americans…The Americans contracted us to do certain things, and we did them. Isse put up resistance so we shot him. But he survived.’ Legal charity Reprieve told the Bureau that Isse was rendered to a warship off the coast of Djibouti. ‘He was later flown to Camp Lemonier’ the Chicago Tribune reported, ’and from there to a clandestine prison in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Isse and his lawyer allege he was detained there for six weeks and tortured by Ethiopian military intelligence with electric shocks’. Isse was finally returned to Somaliland, where he remains imprisoned.

Type of action: Ground operation, rendition
ReferencesChicago TribuneReprieveAmnesty


2001 – 2005

During this period, warlords paid by the CIA helped render ‘seven or eight‘ al-Qaida figures out of Somalia, Sean D. Naylor of the Army Times reported. This included suspected al Qaeda terrorist Suleiman Abdallah from a hospital in Mogadishu in March 2003 (SOM004) and Mohammed Ali Isse, a Somalilander captured by warlords in Mogadishu in 2004 and rendered to a warship off the coast of Djibouti, before being imprisoned in Somaliland (SOM008). As the Chicago Tribune reported, ‘the Somalis on the CIA payroll engaged in a grim tit-for-tat exchange of kidnappings and assassinations with extremists.’ However, Matt Bryden, coordinator for the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, told the Chicago Tribune that, in his opinion, the CIA’s cooperation with the warlords was ‘a stupid idea… it actually strengthened the hand of the Islamists and helped trigger the crisis we’re in today.

Type of action: Ground operation, rendition 
 Army TimesBoston College International & Comparative Law ReviewDaily TelegraphJournal of Conflict StudiesReprieveUNChicago Tribune



June 2006

Confidential emails seen by Africa Confidential and the Observer indicated that US mercenaries may have been operating in Somalia with the knowledge of the CIA. There was also a suggestion that British companies were ‘looking to get involved.’ One email dated June 16 was from Michele Ballarin, chief executive of Select Armor – a US military firm based in Virginia. She claimed that she had been given ‘carte blanche‘ to use three bases in Somalia ‘and the air access to reach them‘.

References: Africa Confidential September 8 2006 (paywall), The Observer


December 24 2006
Ethiopia invaded Somalia aiming to drive out the Islamic Courts Union, and to reinstate the Transitional Somali Government. Several sources reported that Ethiopia received extensive backing from the US, with the Nation’s Jeremy Scahill calling the invasion ‘a classic [US] proxy war’. As 10,000 troops crossed the border, they received airborne reconnaissance support and ‘other intelligence’ from the US, the Washington Post reported. Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Commander Joe Carpenter told USA Today the US and Ethiopian militaries have ‘a close working relationship’. The US also began diverting drones to Somalia to monitor a perceived rise in militant activity. An intelligence source told the Army Times:

“We really took [a] risk in Iraq and Afghanistan and brought resources there [to the Horn]”

But Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer later told the BBC: ‘We urged the Ethiopian military not to go into Somalia’. In a December 6 diplomatic cable quoted by Army Times, US Ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Yamamoto warned the Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi that the invasion could ‘prove more difficult for Ethiopia than many now imagine’. JSOC was unprepared for the invasion, a senior military official told the Army Times. ‘The military wasn’t prepared to take any advantage of it,’ he said. ‘Less than a dozen’ JSOC operators entered the country with Ethiopian special forces to hunt down a small number of senior al Qaeda associates. By December 28, Ethiopian forces had entered Mogadishu as militants fled to the south.

References: Army TimesAir Force TimesThe NationWashington PostBBCLA TimesIRINUSA TodayWikiLeaks diplomatic cable




The US became convinced that ‘hundreds‘ of fighters were training in camps in and around Ras Kamboni, a senior intelligence official told Sean D. Naylor. ‘We observed two that had at least 150 personnel per [at any one time],’ the official said.

Location: Ras Kamboni
ReferenceArmy Times


January 4 2007

Naval forces from Combined Task Force (CTF) 150 were boarding vessels off the coast of Somalia to search for terrorist suspects, the US announced. These ‘Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure’ (VBSS) missions were performed on fishing boats and oil tankers passing near the Somali coast. The aim was to ‘deter individuals with links to al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations the use of the sea as a potential escape route’.

Location: Off the coast of Somalia
Reference: US Department of Defense


January 7 2007

♦ 9-12 total reported killed
♦ 2+ civilians reported killed including ‘many children’
♦ 3 reported injured

As Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia, the US carried out its first US combat operation within Somalia since the September 11, 2001 attacks. A JSOC AC-130 gunship attacked a suspected al Qaeda convoy under cover of darkness, after tracking it with a Predator drone. Seven to 10 militants were killed. US officials, speaking anonymously, named various al Qaeda members as potential targets including Tariq AbdullahAden Hashi Eyro or AyroFazul Abdullah Mohammed, and Sudanese explosives expert Abu Talha al-Sudani. According to several reports, targets were those believed to be responsible for the 1998 embassy bombings, which killed 225 people. Somali government spokesman Abdul Rashid Hidig told the New York Times that two civilians were killed, although an Islamist spokesman said many nomadic tribesmen died, including many children. US Ambassador to Kenya Michael Rannenberger denied any civilian casualties in an interview with the BBC. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told CBS News the strike was based on intelligence ‘that led us to believe we had principal al-Qaeda leaders in an area where we could identify them and take action against them.’ But another US official told the Washington Post: ‘Frankly, I don’t think we know who we killed.’ A team of Ethiopian military with one US Special Forces operative landed at the scene within hours and confirmed eight dead and three injured, the New York Times reported the following month. Ayro’s bloodied passport was found, leading them to believe he had been wounded or killed, the report added – although Ayro was later targeted in SOM022. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was also reportedly the target of SOM15SOM019 and SOM030. A later report in the Daily Mail claimed four British citizens were killed in the attack (see SOM018).

Type of action: Air operation, AC-130 gunship
Location: Ras Kamboni
ReferencesSomalia ReportBetween Threats and War (Zenko) p. 145, Army TimesCBS News, International Crisis GroupMenkhausWashington PostLos Angeles TimesNew York TimesNew York TimesLong War JournalDaily Mail, AP via ChinaDaily


January 9 2007

♦ 5-10 total reported killed
♦ 4-5 reported injured

Two days after the AC-130 attack, another US airstrike hit four towns near Ras Kamboni, including a training camp on Badmadow island. US officials denied to the LA Times that SOM015 and SOM016 were the work of US forces and blamed Ethiopian air attacks, although this appears to be contradicted by a January 12 2007 WikiLeaks cable, which refers to a ‘US military … strike Jan. 9 against members of the East Africa Al Qaeda cell believed to be on the run in a remote area of Somalia near the Kenyan border.’ A US intelligence official, speaking anonymously, told AP that five to ten people targeted by the strike were believed to be associated with al Qaeda.

The US military’s main target on the island was thought to be Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. Although reports suggested he had been killed, he was also the target of SOM019 and, four years later he was the target of SOM030. The official said a small number of others present, perhaps four or five, were wounded. Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said it was not known how many people were killed, ‘but we understand there were a lot of casualties. Most were Islamic fighters.’

Type of action: Air operation, AC-130 gunship
Location: Hayo, Garer, Bankajirow and Badmadow, Ras Kamboni
References: WikiLeaks dipomatic cableCBSLos Angeles Times, Long War Journal


January 9 2007

♦ 4-31 civilians reported killed, including 1 child

Heavy civilian casualties were reported in airstrikes on Hayi near Afmadow, on Hayi, 250km northwest of Ras Kamboni, and other parts of southern Somalia, in confusing reports which may conflate activity by US and other forces. An elder told Reuters 22-27 people had been killed, while a Somali politician told CBS News that 31 civilians ‘including a newlywed couple’ had been killed by two helicopters near Afmadow, while Mohamed Mahmud Burale told AP that at least four civilians were killed on Monday evening in Hayi, including his four-year-old son.

Type of action: Air operation, possibly helicopter
Location: Hayi
References: AP via ChinaDailyCBSNew York TimesLos Angeles TimesReuters
CBS News report on US action in Somalia in 2007


January 23 2007

♦ 8 total reported killed
♦ Possible civilians reported killed

A fresh JSOC AC-130 strike in Somalia, reportedly operating from an airbase in eastern Ethiopia, targeted Ahmed Madobe, a deputy of ICU leader Hassan Turki. Madobe survived the attack but was wounded and captured, he later told The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill. His eight companions, who Madobe said included men and women ‘on the run’ with him, were all killed. Madobe told the Nation:

“At around 4am we woke up to perform the dawn prayers, and that’s when the planes started to hit us. The entire airspace was full of planes. There was AC-130, helicopters and fighter jets. The sky was full of strikes. They were hitting us, pounding us with heavy weaponry.”

At around 10am, he added, Ethiopian and US forces landed by helicopter and captured him. Somalia Report said the attack was on an al Qaeda supply convoy, and ‘follow-up operations’ confirmed the strike killed Tariq Abdullah.

Type of action: Air operation, AC-130 gunship and ground assault, capture
Location: Waldena
References: AP via Washington Post, WikiLeaks diplomatic cable, The Nation, Army Times, Between Threats and War (Zenko) p. 146, International Crisis Group, Somalia Report, Reuters, New York Times


March 2007

A single source claims an SAS unit entered Somalia with members of US Delta Force (part of JSOC) to identify the remains of British and other foreign fighters killed in SOM014. The joint mission took DNA samples from 50 exhumed bodies and four British citizens were identified, the report claimed.

Type of action: Ground operation
Location: Hayo
Reference: Daily Mail


June 1 2007

♦ 8-12 reported killed
♦ Five gunmen captured

The destroyer USS Chafee, sailing off the coast of Somalia, fired ‘more than a dozen rounds from its 5-inch gun’ on militants in Bargal, north Somalia (some reports also claimed that a cruise missile was fired). Somali spokesmen claimed the strike was launched after around 35 heavily armed militants landed on the coast near Bargal and attacked local forces. The New York Times and Micah Zenko reported that a small number of US operatives – working alongside Somali forces to hunt high-value targets believed to be among the militants – came under fire, prompting the missile launch, enabling the US and Ethiopian troops to escape. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the 1998 embassy bombings, was among the targets, according to MSNBC and Zenko. The strike killed eight to twelve alleged militants, reportedly including men from the UK, US, Eritrea, Sweden and Yemen. Five militants were captured, a Somali official told the Chicago Tribune. The US operatives comprised three counterterrorism officials who were ‘investigating the computers that the militants were carrying,’ Hassan Dahir, the vice-president of Puntland, told the New York Times.

Type of action: Naval operation, naval bombardment
Location: Bargal, Puntland
References: Between Threats and War (Zenko) p.147, Army Times, Stars and Stripes, Chicago Tribune, New York TimesMSNBCLong War JournalTelegraph

“The entire airspace was full of planes. There was AC-130, helicopters and fighter jets. The sky was full of strikes” – Ahmed Madobe


June 7 2007

The US announced it had detained and rendered suspected al Qaeda member Abdullahi Sudi Arale, a leading member of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) who it described as ‘an extremely dangerous terror suspect‘, with links to Islamist forces in Somalia. Arale had been detained in the Horn of Africa and transferred to the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon said:

“Abdullahi Sudi Arale is suspected of being a member of the Al Qaeda terrorist network in East Africa, serving as a courier between East Africa Al Qaeda (EAAQ) and Al Qaeda in Pakistan. Since his return from Pakistan to Somalia in September 2006, he has held a leadership role in the EAAQ-affiliated Somali Council of Islamic Courts (CIC). There is significant information available indicating that Arale has been assisting various EAAQ-affiliated extremists in acquiring weapons and explosives, and has facilitated terrorist travel by providing false documents for AQ and EAAQ-affiliates and foreign fighters traveling into Somalia. Arale played a significant role in the re-emergence of the CIC in Mogadishu.”

Type of action: Ground operation, rendition
Location: Somalia
References: BBCPentagon  



March 2 2008

♦ 4-6 total reported killed
♦ 4 civilians reported killed
♦ 6-8 reported injured

The US fired at least one cruise missile at Dhobley, a town in southern Somalia near the Kenyan border, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told AFP. ‘On March 2, the US conducted an attack against a known Al-Qaeda terrorist in southern Somalia,’ he said. The Long War Journal reported the strike targeted Ras Kamboni Brigades leader Hassan Turki and al Qaeda leader Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. The town was bombed and civilian targets hit in an attack carried out by a US AC-130 gunship, an Islamist spokesman said. A local elder, Abdullahi Sheikh Duale, said four civilians were killed. A police officer told AP eight people were wounded in the strike, while an aid worker in Dhobley said up to six people were still trapped in the rubble by midday, and a minimum of two bombs were dropped.

Type of action: Air operation, possibly AC-130 gunship
Location: Dhobley
References: AFPBloombergMonsters and CriticsLong War JournalAssociated Press


May 1 2008

♦ 15+ total reported killed

♦ 5+ civilians reported killed

In May 2008, US naval-launched cruise missiles killed Aden Hashi Ayro (see also SOM014), the head of the Somali Islamist movement al Shabaab, which had growing ties with Al Qaeda. Some reports claimed an AC-130 was also involved. After Ayro’s death al Shabaab reportedly suspected the US had tracked him through his iPhone and banned the use of similar devices. An American military official in Washington told the New York Times:

[A]t least four Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from a Navy ship or submarine off the Somali coast had slammed into a small compound of single-story buildings in Dusa Marreb, a well-known hide-out for Mr. Ayro and his associates. The military official and two American intelligence officials said all indications were that Mr. Ayro was killed, along with several top lieutenants, but the attack was still being assessed.

Insurgent leaders had been meeting in Dusa Marreb, al Shabaab-controlled broadcaster Shabelle reported, putting the death toll at 15. A Shabaab spokesman, Mukhtar Ali Robow, told Reuters: ‘Infidel planes bombed Dusa Marreb… Two of our important people, including Ayro, were killed.’ Sheikh Muhyadin Omar was among the dead, according to the Long War Journal and Africa Confidential. Residents said ‘several other Shabaab fighters and civilians were killed, Reuters reported. Half a dozen senior Al Shabaab commanders and Ayro’s brother were killed in the strike, according to Africa Confidential. Ayro’s wife and children, and people from nearby houses, were also reported dead.

Type of action: Naval operation, cruise missiles and possible air assault, AC-130 gunship
Dusa Marreb town, central Somalia
References: Army TimesChristian Science MonitorAllAfrica.comTime, Between Threats and War (Zenko) p. 151, New York TimesReutersAfrica ConfidentialLong War JournalLong War Journal



March 14 2009

Apparently confirming US fears of a militant link between Somalia and al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden used an audio recording, posted on Jihadi websites, to urge Somalis to ‘fight on‘ against their newly elected president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, CBS News reported. ‘Bin Laden asked Muslim youths to disseminate extremist literature online‘, the report claimed. Ken Menkhaus, professor of political science at Davidson University and Somalia expert, felt bin Laden’s message would only bolster support for the new president. ‘There’s nothing that plays as poorly in Somalia as foreigners trying to advance their own agenda in Somalia — telling them who they may or may not have as a leader — and al-Qaeda is falling into that category. In some ways, you could not script this any better for the new government. On paper, it all looks excellent,’ he told TIME.

ReferencesCBS NewsThe IndependentYouTubeTIME


April 12 2009

♦ 3 reported killed

In a hostage rescue operation, JSOC Navy Seal Team 6 commandos were authorised to shoot three pirates off the Somali coast. On April 9, the pirates had stormed the decks of the US container ship Maersk Alabama, taking captain Richard Phillips hostage. The pirates escaped on a covered lifeboat, threatening to kill Phillips unless they received a £2m ransom payment. On April 11 President Obama agreed that Navy Seals could use deadly force if the captain’s life was in danger.

The following evening, Seal snipers positioned on the USS Bainbridge saw a pirate pointing a gun at Phillips. Three snipers each fired a single round, killing the three pirates, before rescuing Phillips.

According to the New York Times, Phillips was then ‘flown to the Boxer, an amphibious assault ship also off the Somali coast’. The Boxer, a JSOC ship, also featured in the 2011 capture and rendition off the Yemen coast of Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame.

Location: Off the coast of Somalia
References: The Daily BeastNew York TimesThe GuardianLos Angeles Times


September 14 2009

♦ 2-6 reported killed
♦ 2 reported injured

US Special Forces launched a helicopter raid into Somalia, killing Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, wanted in connection with the Mombasa attacks. ’We’d been tracking him for years,’ a senior military official told Sean D. Naylor, in the Army Times. ’We knew his travel route, we knew the vehicles he was using‘. A detailed report in the Daily Beast outlines how the operation unfolded. Dubbed Operation ‘Celestial Balance’, the job fell to the elite Seal Team 6, under the command of JSOC. Three options were mooted: to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles from a warship off the Somali coast; a helicopter attack on the convoy, or a ‘snatch and grab’ operation attempting to take Nabhan alive. Deciding on the helicopter assault, the US learned Nabhan’s convoy would be setting off from Mogadishu to meet Islamic militants in the coastal town of Baraawe, the Beast reported. As the convoy neared Barawe, JSOC struck. Multiple 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment AH-6 Little Bird helicopters flew from a Navy ship and attacked the militants as they were breakfasting, killing six, including Nabhan, according to news reports. However, NPR radio reported that Seal commandos fired missiles into Nabhan’s car. The Army Times and Daily Beast stated that one helicopter landed and operators jumped out and loaded the bodies of Nabhan and three others into the aircraft, in order to retrieve Nabhan’s DNA. Following this operation, a Pentagon official told the Daily Beast the US Special Ops Forces wanted to increase their use of Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE), ‘not just to kill terror targets but to rummage through their belongings‘, but ‘the president was not supportive‘ and this became a bone of contention between Special Ops and the Obama administration, said the Beast.

Type of action: Air operation, helicopter and ground assault, body retrieval 
References: ABCGuardianTimeArmy TimesAir Force TimesNPRThe Daily Beast



September 22 2009

A diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks revealed unarmed US drones would soon fly from a base in the Seychelles on missions over Somalia: ‘Counter-terrorism missions will involve intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance flights over the Horn of Africa to support ongoing counter-terrorism efforts. The UAVs originating from Seychelles and flying counter-terrorism mission will not conduct direct attacks.’ ABC News has since reported ‘US Africa Command has been flying drones out of the Seychelles since 2009 as part of anti-piracy measures in the Indian Ocean.’ The WikiLeaks cable revealed 77 US personnel would be located in Mahe, the capital, to launch, recover and maintain the drones.

Location: Mahe, Seychelles
References: WikiLeaks cableABC

We’d been tracking him for yearsWe knew his travel route, we knew the vehicles he was using’ – senior US military official to Army Times 


September 30 2009

A secret directive, the ‘Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order’, was signed by General David Petraeu, chief of Central Command, authorszing ‘the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces,’ according to the New York Times. The order, which an official said ‘was drafted in close coordination with Admiral Eric T. Olson, the officer in charge of the United States Special Operations Command‘, called for clandestine activities that ‘cannot or will not be accomplished‘ by conventional military operations or ‘interagency activities.’

Reference: New York Times


October 19 2009

Al Shabaab militants claimed they had shot down a US surveillance drone just off the coast near to Kismayo. ‘The suspected US aircraft had been flying in Kismayo airspace for days before being shot down two miles north-east of the town on Monday morning,’ an unnamed Islamist official told the BBC. ‘We think it fell into the sea. We are still searching for it’. ’It fell into the water and our fighters are trying to locate it,’ al Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Hassan Yacqub told Reuters. But US Navy spokesman Lieutenant Nathan Christensen told Reuters all drones had been safely recovered.

Location: Kismayo


Summer 2010

According to the Guardian, in summer 2010 the UK began drawing up ‘contingency plans’ for airstrikes on beach camps in Somalia, having become highly concerned about the threat to Britain and Europe posed by pirates and Islamic insurgents. ‘The UK has also considered plans for attacking targets in places where al-Shabaab and the pirates appear to co-exist, particularly in southern Somalia’, the Guardian reported.

Location: coastal and southern Somalia
Reference: The Guardian



April 3-6 2011

♦ 1-36 reported killed

After a reporting gap of 18 months, US air attacks may have resumed. Reports of intense fighting for control of the town of Dhobley between al Shabaab and Somali forces mention an air strike, which Shabelle reports killed several militants. Somalia Report stated: ‘on April 6, shortly after the exploitation of data from captured al-Qaeda cell phones and laptops, three dozen al Shabab members were killed‘, although later reports say only one commander was killed. Jabreel Malik Muhammed was killed in the strike, according to the Observer (Uganda).

Type of action: Air operation, airstrike
Location: Dhobley
References: The Observer (Uganda), AllAfrica, Long War Journal, Somalia ReportAl ArabiyaSomalia Report


June 23 2011

♦ 2+ reported killed
♦ 2-3 reported injured

In the first known lethal drone strike in Somalia, Predators struck a militant training camp 10km south of Kismayo. Further missiles hit a second target near the airport. The attacks were aimed at two senior militants who were planning an imminent terrorist attack on the UK, US officials told the Washington Post. Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig, Somalia’s deputy defence minister, told AP the strike killed ‘many’ foreign fighters. ‘I have their names, but I don’t want to release them,’ he claimed. Ibrahim al Afghani, also known as Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, a senior leader in al Shabaab, was reportedly wounded or killed, although Strategic Forecasting claimed on August 11 that Afghani was alive and had replaced Ahmed Abdi Godane as the emir of al Shabaab. Al Shabaab has not responded to either report, and Afghani has not appeared in public since. Two militants were wounded, according to a local al Shabaab leader, Sheik Hassan Yaqub, while resident Mohammed Aden reported seeing three wounded militants. Among them was British citizen Bilal al Barjawi, killed in a subsequent drone strike, SOM052. US helicopters reportedly landed after the attack, with troops retrieving some dead and injured. The strike was the first joint mission conducted by JSOC and the CIA, CNN claimed.

Type of action: Air operation, drone strike, helicopter raid
Location: Kismayo
References: Long War JournalWashington PostDaily BeastAl JazeeraSomalia ReportBoston Globe, Strategic Forecasting via Critical ThreatsBloombergAssociated PressNew York TimesAll AfricaCNN
Russia Today reports on the first US drone attack in Somalia


June 28 2011

In a piece looking a drone strikes in Somalia, Somalia Report stated that on this day, ‘another attack occurred in Taabta village in the Afmadow District of Lower Juba’. However, it is unclear whether this was a US strike, and Somalia Report was not able to provide further information.

Type of action: Air assault, possible drone strike
Reference: Somalia Report


June 2011

Britain’s Special Boat Squadron, in conjunction with French special forces, reportedly finished an eight-week programme mapping ports used by Somali pirates. According to a UK defence source, ‘There are countless ports where hijacked ships are docked. SBS troops built up a security picture.’

Type of action: Naval and ground operations
Location: Southern Somalia
Reference: The Sun


July 6 2011

♦ Unknown number killed

US drones or planes reportedly hit three al Shabaab militant training camps in Afmadow. ‘Early in the morning and before the sunrise, we heard more than five heavy blasts not far from the town. We believe it was an airstrike,” said a resident. ‘Minutes later, we saw three military vehicles traveling at a high rate of speed to Kismayo. We believe they were carrying victims of the attack.’ However, then-Somalia Report editor Michael Logan told the Bureau by email it is simply not known if US drones were behind this attack. ‘This is one of those that cannot be confirmed as a drone. Lots of witnesses and a TFG official do confirm an attack, so some kind of strike took place (but as you know, there are a variety of actors capable of launching missiles),’ he said. Somali deputy defence minister Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig said at the time: ‘The foreigners and senior officials of the terrorist group are afraid. They secretly hide amongst the civilians. The airstrikes will continue until we minimize the enemy from our country.’ But Dr. Omar Ahmed, an academic and Somali politician, told Somalia Report airstrikes would increase local support for al Shabaab: ‘There is no reason for the western countries to use airstrikes against al-Shabaab. It will only increase the generations supporting al Shabaab.’

Type of action: Air operation, either drone or airstrike
Reference: Somalia Report


July 9 2011

British Royal Marines reportedly landed at Berbera in northern Somalia to liaise with and transport a Somali tribal elder to talks. The troops, from 539 Assault Squadron attached to Exercise Somalialand Cougar, reportedly landed with Viking armoured vehicles and met with the elder some miles inland. He was then ferried to ‘a very important meeting‘ with MI6 and Foreign Office representatives.

Type of action: Ground operation
References: Daily MailSomaliland TimesBBC


August 1 2011

The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill revealed the CIA was operating a secret base in Mogadishu. According to the award-winning reporter, the CIA had its own aircraft at the site, and operated subcontracted underground interrogation cells elsewhere in the city. He stated:

At the [airport] facility, the CIA runs a counterterrorism training program for Somali intelligence agents and operatives aimed at building an indigenous strike force capable of snatch operations and targeted ‘combat’ operations against members of Al Shabab, an Islamic militant group with close ties to Al Qaeda.

References: The NationMSNBC

Jeremy Scahill discusses his investigation on MSNBC’s Morning Joe


August 19 2011 

Security officials in Somalia reported a drone had crashed in Mogadishu, but provided no details about who was operating it. Officials told Voice of America the drone crashed into a house near the Libyan Embassy. Small surveillance drones were known to be operated in the capital by both the US and AMISOM, according to a well-informed Bureau source.

Location: Mogadishu
References: APHiiraanVoice of AmericaCritical ThreatsGlobal Post


August 22 2011

Radio Andalus, an al Shabaab-run radio station, reported that five American surveillance drones had crashed in southern Somalia ‘over the last two weeks‘. Two of these drones fell in Mogadishu, one in Kismayo, and the others around Merka town of Lower Shabelle. The radio station claimed the US had confirmed some of these drones crashed in Somalia for technical reasons. However there is no other source for this.

Location: Mogadishu, Kismayo, Merka
Reference: Radio Andalus, via Somalia Report

Phantom drone strikes

In September 2011, Iranian broadcaster Press TV began reporting the deaths of civilians and others in alleged US drone strikes in Somalia, as well as a number of drone crashes. A three-month investigation by the Bureau failed to find independent corroboration for any of these supposed strikes, which Press TV claimed killed more than 1,300 civilians. These alleged strikes are listed separately here.

Read the Bureau’s full investigation of Press TV’s Somalia ‘drone strike’ reports


September 15 2011

♦ Unknown casualties

AFP reported that residents of Kismayo heard ‘the sound of aircraft and heavy explosions… We heard planes flying over Kismayo and minutes later there were at least three explosions,’ resident Mohamed Ali told AFP by phone. ‘The aircraft fired heavy missiles into a jungle area where the Shebab established training camps, but we don’t know more,’ Abdikarim Samow, another resident, told AFP. There were no further reports of a strike.

Type of action: Possible air assault 
Reference: AFPRNW


September 21 2011

Armed drones were operating from Mahe in the Seychelles (along with those used purely for surveillance), the Washington Post reported: ‘In the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean…a small fleet of “hunter-killer” drones resumed operations this month after an experimental mission demonstrated that the unmanned aircraft could effectively patrol Somalia from there.’ Seychelles foreign minister Jean-Paul Adam denied the drones were armed. However, a 2009 diplomatic cable stated the US ‘would seek discrete [sic], specific discussions … to gain approval’ to arm the Reapers in the Seychelles ‘should the desire to do so ever arise’.

Location: Seychelles
Reference: Washington PostChannel 4 NewsWikiLeaks cable


25 September 25 2011

♦ Unknown casualties 

The United States launched a series of drone attacks on al-Shabaab in Kismayo, according to residents, who reported attacks on three locations. The BBC claimed that ‘al-Shabaab are patrolling the streets, preventing locals from using the hospital, which is treating their wounded.’ A large drone was said to have crashed. Al Shahbaab official Sheikh Ibrahim Guled told Reuters:

This plane was a spy for the American government and by the will of Allah, it crashed near the airport. We did not target it but it fell down.

Type of action: Air operation, drone strikes
References: BBCVoice of AmericaReutersGlobal PostAntiwarThe ScotsmanAllAfricaMareegSomalia TodaySomalia ReportCritical Threats


October 6 2011

♦ 4 total reported killed
♦ 4 civilians reported killed 
♦ 1 person injured

Four Somali farmers were reported to have been killed in a possible drone strike in Dolbiyow Village, 35km east of Dhobley, said Somalia Report, while one was reportedly injured. The farmers and their camels were killed moments after al-Shabaab fighters fled the area in vehicles, witnesses said. However, a TFG official told Somalia Report Al-Shabaab had mortared the village.

Type of action: Possible air operation, drone strike  
Reference: Somalia Report


October 11 2011

US and British naval and marine units freed the hijacked crew of the Italian ship Montecristo and captured 11 Somali pirates. British defence secretary Liam Fox said of the operation:

Such was the show of strength displayed by RFA [Royal Fleet Auxilliary] Fort Victoria, alongside a US navy frigate, that the operation was conducted without a shot being fired.

Type of action: Naval operation
Indian Ocean off Somalia
References: The GuardianAssociated PressBritish Ministry of Defence


October 13 2011

♦ Unknown casualties
♦ Possible civilian casualties

A single source, Somalia Report, claimed there had been attacks on an al-Shabaab base near Taabta village, Lower Juba, though it is not clear who was behind the strikes. Drones targeted an al-Shabaab base used to train new fighters, according to TFG military official Mohamed Hassan Bule. ‘We are aware of the operations. It completes today’s operation on the group by the Somali National Forces. The airstrikes were carried out by drones from a friendly nation and destroyed a very important and large base ten kilometers east of Taabta. They used the base to train a misguided generation’, Bule told Somalia Report. Casualty numbers were unknown, with some local sources saying that civilians were also affected.

Type of action: Air operation, drone strike 
Reference: Somalia Report


October 23 2011

♦ 11 total reported killed
♦ 11 civilians reported killed
♦ 20 civilians reported injured

At least 11 civilians died and more than 20 others were wounded after a possible US drone attacked on Afmadow town in Lower Jubba region, according to a single source. ’I have seen 11 bodies and we believe that it was a US airstrike,’ Mohamud Abdirahman, an eyewitness, told Somalia Report. Locals said they had sighted what they believed to be US drones hovering above the area in the previous few days.

Type of action: Possible air operation, drone strike
 Afmadow, Lower Jubba
Reference: Somalia Report


October 27 2011

The US confirmed a new drone base at Arba Minch in Ethopia was now operational and that flights had already started from the site. The Washington Post reported armed Reapers were flying from the site, although US officials told the BBC and Al Jazeera the base was being used for surveillance flights only. The US government was reported to have spent millions of dollars adding drone facilities to Arba Minch’s small civilian airport. The Ethiopian foreign ministry denied a the facility was a military base: spokesman Tesfaye Yilma told the Washington Post, ‘We don’t entertain foreign military bases in Ethiopia’. Captain John Kirby of the US Department of Defence told Al Jazeera: ‘There are no US military bases in Ethiopia. It’s an Ethiopian airfield.’

Location: Arba Minch, Ethiopia
References: Al JazeeraWashington PostBBC


November 14 2011

♦ 1-2 reported killed

Missiles were fired at a training camp in Afgoye, Lower Shabelle, according to al Shabaab. An initial report from the Sunatimes stated: ‘[a] US drone attack killed leaders Ahmed Godane and Hassan Dahir Aweys.’ But Michael Logan, then editor of Somalia Report, later tweeted ‘Looks like the deaths of al-Shabaab leaders were greatly exaggerated by the TFG, as usual.’ A junior al Shabaab member allegedly told Somalia Report that the group suffered ‘some casualties.’ Associated Press debated who was responsible for the alleged strikes, with both French and US officials suggesting the other nation may have carried out the attacks.

Type of action: Air operation, likely drone strike 
: Afgoye
References: SunatimesSomalia ReportAssociated Press


December 13 2011

Addressing American troops in Djibouti, US defence secretary Leon Panetta said US operations against al Qaeda were concentrating on key groups in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa:

Al Qaeda is what started this war and we have made a commitment that we are going to track these guys wherever they go and make sure they have no place to hide, and that’s what the effort here is all about – to make sure that they have no place to hide, whether it’s Yemen or it’s Somalia or anyplace else.

References: Washington PostAssociated PressUS Department of Defense transcript

Looks like the deaths of al-Shabaab leaders were greatly exaggerated by the TFG, as usual’ – Michael Logan 


December 13 2011

A US surveillance drone crashed in the Seychelles during a routine patrol, reported the Telegraph. ’The Seychelles-based MQ-9s, which are used to monitor piracy activities in and around the Indian Ocean, don’t carry weapons, though they have the capability to do so… The US has used drones to hunt down al-Qaida-linked militants in Somalia and Yemen, among other countries. Their humming is a constant feature in the sky in many of the major towns in southern Somalia, especially the capital city and the militant-controlled southern port of Kismayo.’

Location: Seychelles
References: Daily TelegraphAssociated Press (via NY Times)


December 28 2011

A major report in the Washington Post examined drone strikes sanctioned by the Obama administration. The Post reporters spoke to a ‘senior administration official’ who stated that in Somalia, ‘the US administration has only allowed a handful of strikes, out of concern that a broader campaign could turn al-Shabab from a regional menace into an adversary determined to carry out attacks on US soil.’

Reference: Washington Post



January 13 2012

British naval forces captured 13 Somali pirates. The operation involved Royal Marine snipers in Lynx helicopters, and Royal Naval and Royal Marine commandos in speedboats. Speaking about the operation, defence secretary Philip Hammond said:

This operation off the coast of Somalia is a clear demonstration of Britain’s ability to tackle piracy that threatens our interests. The Royal Navy and Royal Marines are playing a crucial role in securing and protecting international sea lanes that are vital to global trade.

Type of action: Naval operation
Indian Ocean off Somalia
Reference: British Ministry of Defence


January 21 2012

♦ 1+ reported killed
Three missiles fired from a suspected US drone killed British-Lebanese militant Bilal Al-Barjawi, also known as Abu Hafsa. Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said:

At around 1400, a US drone targeted our mujahideen. One foreigner, a Lebanese with a British passport, died.

A witness who gave his name as Osman told the New York Times there were two strikes: ‘One hit a car, which I believe held explosives.’ The strike was confirmed to AP by a US official in Washington. Barjawi was known to have been injured in airstrikes in June 2011 (SOM031) and was suspected to have sought medical assistance in Nairobi at that time. The Guardian reported Barjawi’s wife was understood to have given birth to a child in a London hospital a few hours before the attack, prompting suspicions that his location had been pinpointed through a telephone conversation between the couple. The killing caused a rift within al-Qaeda, reports suggested, with al-Shabaab calling an emergency meeting after the drone strike, amid accusations that leaders ‘may be involved in this latest killing to pursue their own goals’.

Type of action: Air operation, drone strike
Location: Elasha Biyaha, 15km south of Mogadishu
Reference: Somalia Report, Al Shabaab press, Long War JournalAssociated PressThe GuardianSomalia ReportNew York TimesThe TelegraphReutersLong War


January 21 2012

♦ 6 reported killed

Further south, another airstrike killed six people near the insurgent stronghold of Kismayo, according to Sheikh Mohamud Abdi, a senior al-Shabaab commander. It is not known whether the strike was by US or Kenyan forces. Kenya sent troops into Somalia in October amid concerns that Somalia’s 21-year-old civil war was spilling over the countries’ border.

Type of action: Reported air operation, possible US airstrike
Reference: The Guardian


January 22 2012

People fled their homes in the rebel-held area of Elasha Biyaha on the outskirts of Mogadishu, ‘for fear of drone attacks targeting foreign and Al-Shabaab militants in the area‘, Somali radio station Bar Kulan reported. The station’s correspondent said most were women and children who had earlier left the capital and camped in Elasha Biyaha, but had returned following the previous day’s strikes. Somalia Report stated they spoke with a resident who lived near the site of SOM053. ‘We are scared of more strikes because Al-Shabaab fighters live around here and they might be potential targets … Shrapnel and dust was flying away from the impact area and if it happens again it might be fatal,’ he told Somalia Report.

Location: Elasha Biyaha
ReferenceBar KulanSomalia Report


January 25 2012
Reported killed: 9 pirates
A US special forces raid freed two aid workers, American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Hagen Thisted, who had been kidnapped by pirates. NBC News, citing US officials, said two teams landed by helicopter and rescued the hostages after a gun battle with the kidnappers. The freed hostages were taken by helicopter to an undisclosed location. According to Associated Press, the task force involved in the rescue was Navy Seal Team Six – the team that killed Osama Bin Laden. Galmudug leader Mohamed Ahmed Alim told Reuters nine pirates were killed and five captured during the rescue operation. President Obama said he authorised the operation to rescue Buchanan:

Thanks to the extraordinary courage and capabilities of our Special Operations Forces, yesterday Jessica Buchanan was rescued and she is on her way home. As Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder of the troops who carried out this mission, and the dedicated professionals who supported their efforts.

Type of action: Ground operation, rescue mission.
Location: Galmudug
References: ReutersNBC NewsAssociated Press video, Associated PressBBC
AP report on hostage release


February 3 2012

A surveillance drone reportedly crashed in a refugee camp in Mogadishu. There were no reported casualties and nothing to indicate the origins of the drone. According to AP, refugees and soldiers in Badbado camp said they watched the drone crash into a hut ‘made of sticks, corrugated cans and plastic bags‘.

Location: Mogadishu
Reference: Associated Press


February 9 2012

In a video posted on Islamist forums, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri said that Al Shabaab had officially joined the al Qaeda global network. According to the Telegraph, ‘analysts said the move appeared partly a propaganda gambit by an al Qaeda leadership weakened by drone strikes and a failure to carry out a major successful attack in the West since 2005‘.

ReferencesSomali War MonitorThe TelegraphReuters, New York Times


February 21 2012

Britain is to contribute £20m to a ‘stability fund’ for Somalia, which will pay for a civilian force of ‘chino-clad warriors’ to assist the Somali government, the Telegraph reported. In addition, the Guardian reported that Britain and other EU countries were ‘considering helicopters from warships to mount off shore raids on the logistical hubs and training camps belonging to pirates and al-Shabaab militants in the country’. A Whitehall source told the newspaper: ‘We don’t have the assets in place…that does not mean we could not get them in the air quickly.’ Another official added, ‘there was no political will on this to begin with, but that has been changing. We know where the camps are, where they set up and where they launch from.’ In an interview with the BBC Somali service, David Cameron explained the threat he believed al Shabaab posed: ‘Al-Shabaab encourages violent jihad not just in Somalia but also outside Somalia’, he said. ‘And there is a very real danger of young British Somalis having their minds poisoned by this organisation.’

Location: throughout Somalia
References: the Guardian, the Telegraph, BBC Somali Service via al Arabiya

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