The Tripoli and Barawe Raid: Update on America’s Foreign Policy against Terrorism in Africa

Al-Liby, courtesy of CNN
Al-Liby, courtesy of CNN

           While some of us watched the Ohio State v. Northwestern football game, America took a decisive step in its foreign policy in combating terror in Africa. American forces targeted two high value targets in Tripoli, Libya and Barawe, Somalia, and attempted to bring them to justice. The raid in Libya succeeded, while the raid in Somalia failed. The raids in both countries have dramatic repercussions in America’s standing in the international system.

            The successfully apprehended target in Tripoli was Ana al-Liby, also known as Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai. He was the mastermind behind the 1998 U.S. embassy attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that killed 224 people. For his terrorist actions, he was indicted by a federal court in New York and has been the target of U.N. sanctions. Liby has been on Department of State’s wanted list with a bounty of five million dollars. His son described the abduction, saying armed masked men speaking a Libyan dialect took his father. The Pentagon released a statement on the raid, claiming “The successful capture operation was made possible by superb work and coordination across our national security agencies and the intelligence community, and was approved by President Obama.” The statement also mentioned that Liby was “currently lawfully detained outside of Libya.” However, this raid has launched backlash against the United States in its relationship with the nascent Libyan government. Libyans have called the abduction “an act of piracy.” Ali Zeidan, the president of Libya, explained he was, “keen on prosecuting any Libyan citizen inside Libya.” Aly Sheikhi, spokesperson for the Libyan Armed Forces, claimed, “We found out from media outlets just like everybody else.” While the raiders successfully detained and extracted their target, the removal exacerbated local tensions with the United States.

Courtesy of the Telegraph
Courtesy of the Telegraph

            Concurrently, a similar raid took place in Barawe, Somalia. Pentagon spokesperson George Little released that American troops (most likely SEAL Team Six) were “involved in a counter-terrorism operation against a known Al-Shabab terrorist.” According to Reuters, American forces did not take any casualties, but failed to neutralize the target out of fear of disproportionate collateral damage. This raid, according to an anonymous U.S. official, was “prompted by the Westgate attack.” To further complicate matters, a Somali intelligence official claimed that the high value target at Barawe was a Chechen. The official Somali government reaction was positive, as Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid announced “Our co-operation with international partners on fighting against terrorism is not a secret.” While the Barawe raid failed to capture the target, the relationship between the American and fledging Somali government was maintained.

Map of Barawe, courtesy of The Washington Post
Map of Barawe, courtesy of The Washington Post

            The raids prompted a soap-box for American foreign policy. Secretary of State John Kerry preached, “We hope this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror. Those members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations literally can run but they can’t hide. We will continue to try to bring people to justice in an appropriate way with hopes that ultimately these kinds of activities against everybody in the world will stop.” Because terrorism is a transnational phenomenon, Kerry affirmed a global push against terror, utilizing all the tools of America’s foreign policy, from sanctions to direct military action. But why use SEALs and risk American casualties when drones are readily available? Ernesto Londono of the Washington Post wrote, “The use of Navy SEALs suggested that American officials had hoped to take members of the group into custody or collect physical evidence. Strikes on terrorism suspects that aim solely to kill are typically carried out with drone or missile strikes, so as to not put ground troops in harm’s way.” By capturing these high value targets, American intelligence officers could gain more names, dates, and locations, to further dismantle terrorist networks. This neutralization of key individuals would also impact the command and control of the networks, leading to a leadership crisis amongst the terrorists. By why has terrorism been mushrooming in Africa recently? Gaith Sennib of Reuters contends, “The trend (proliferation of terrorist groups in Africa) reflects a number of factors, including Western efforts to force al-Qaeda from its former base in Afghanistan, the overthrow of anti-Islamic authoritarian rulers in the Arab Spring of 2011, and growing resentment among Africa’s poor with governments they view as corrupt pawns of Western powers.” Various factors have undermined the expansion of extremism in Africa. But what do these raids this mean for U.S. foreign policy. I contend that these raids are a show of force to support our allies in Nairobi and to show that in the wake of the end of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq that America is not a ‘paper tiger.’ While the military may be downsizing, snatch and grab raids will still be operationally capable and the units that conduct them will be maintained, if not augmented. However, this use of force can also challenge American values abroad, and other nations will question the use of extraordinary rendition and brute military force (if you are interested in this topic read Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback). Ultimately, are the raids a good thing for American foreign policy? Yes and no. They are good for short term interests, maintaining geo-political leverage, and for supporting allies, but fail to win over skeptics, humanitarians, and nationalists.


BBC. “US Commando Raids: Libya Calls for Explanation.” BBC News: Africa. October 6, 2013.

Hosenball, Mark and Phil Stewart. “U.S. Says Captures Al Qaeda Leader in Libya, also Raids Somalia.” Reuters. October 6, 2013.

Lamb, Kate. “Kerry: US Africa Raids Show Al-Qaida ‘Can Run, But Can’t Hide’.” VOA. October 6, 2013.

Londono, Ernesto. “Libya Condemns U.S. Raid and Capture of Bombing Suspect.” Washington Post. October 6, 2013.

Londono, Ernesto and Scott Wilson. “U.S. Strikes Al-Shabab in Somalia and Captures Bombing Suspect in Libya.” The Washington Post October 6, 2013.

Shennib, Gaith and Abdi Sheikh. “Libya, Somalia Raids Show U.S. Reach, Problems.” Reuters. October 6, 2013.


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