WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Tuesday questioned the effectiveness and legality of the U.S. commando strike that failed to capture its target, an operative of the Al-Qaida affiliate Al-Shabab, in Somalia last week.
During a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he grilled Amanda Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African Affairs, about the reasons behind the failure to capture the Al-Shabab leader, Ikrimah, sought for his association with planners of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya.
“Don’t be surprised…if there is skepticism here about the activities that you engage in.” McCain said when she declined to respond.
“Fact is, it was a failure. Fact is, that there was an intelligence failure there, otherwise the mission would be completed.”
Dory said that taking direct action was one element of a multifaceted approach to combating Al-Shabab and other terrorist activity in the region.
Al-Shabab members took responsibility for the Westgate mall attacks in Kenya that killed 67.
“Al Shabab must be stopped,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary, Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department.
Since 2006, the U.S. has invested $700 million in the African Union Mission in Somalia and the Somali National Army, and an additional $140 million to “stability democracy and economic growth,” said Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., at the hearing.
Bronwyn Bruton, an African democracy expert with the Atlantic Council, however, said that as long as civilian casualties are minimized, targeted strikes in Somalia are an effective counterterrorism approach.
“Keep it narrow and keep it clean,” Bruton said.
U.S.-Somali relations have been complicated since the early 1990s when internal fighting broke out in the country. The U.S. has been unofficially involved in military operations since then, said Dory. Although, the U.S. doesn’t have a diplomatic mission in Somalia, it formally recognized the country’s elected government in June.
She said U.S. policy in the region is aimed at improving Somalia’s ability to counter terrorism and secure its borders and coastline while reinforcing democratic values and respect for rule of law.
Bruton said that conflating those two objectives is counterproductive and expensive.
“The strategy is everything and the kitchen sink,” she said.
Because the Al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia are mostly foreign nationals, eliminating them through targeted strikes would work better than involving neighboring governments, Bruton said.
The Somalis perceive the involvement of neighboring countries like Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia as “meddling though their rivals,” she said, putting the U.S. on one side of a very complicated regional conflict.
“You don’t have to be involved in playing police,” she said.