U.S. readies counter-terror offensive in east Africa

taking steps to intensify the collection of information about militants and their infrastructure in Africa – an intelligence collection campaign which must precede, and which is a condition for, a successful operational campaign to degrade the militants’ infrastructure and capabilities.

Yesterday, the U.S. State Department announced rewards totaling $33 million for information about the location of seven key leaders of Somalia’s al Shabaab, seeking for the first time to target the top leadership of that organization. Msnbc reports that the reward money is allocated this way:

  • A $7 million reward is offered for information helping locate Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed, the group’s founder and overall commander
  • Rewards of up to $5 million are offered for Ibrahim Haji Jama, another al Shabaab co-founder; group financier Fuad Mohamed Khalaf; military commander Bashir Mohamed Mahamoud; and groups spokesman Mukhtar Robow
  • Rewards of up to $3 million for information on the whereabouts of intelligence chief Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi and Abdullahi Yare, another senior figure

The United States has already conducted two drone attacks against Islamists in Somalia, but yesterday’s announcement is an indication that the counter-terrorism campaign in Africa is beginning in earnest.

“This is the first time we’ve had key leaders of al Shabaab as part of the Rewards for Justice program,” said Robert Hartung, an assistant director at the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which administers the program. “Every time we add someone to the Rewards for Justice site, that is a signal that the U.S. government is sending that it takes the fight against terrorism very seriously,” Hartung said.

Karl Wycoff, deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said that “What we’re about in Somalia is a comprehensive broad effort with a variety of partners in the region and around the world to bring stability to Somalia.”

Four years ago, in 2008, the United States added al Shabaab to the Department of State’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. Al Shabaab has been coordinating its activities with al Qaeda, and one of its latest assignments is to destabilize Kenya: al Shabaab has launched direct attacks on Kenyan government facilities, and is helping organize Islamic terrorist cells in Kenya. The situation has become serious enough for the Kenyan military to launch attacks into Somalia, and occupy sections along the border, in order to suppress al Shabaab activities. Al Shabaab has also been subjected to periodic air and ground attacks by the Ethiopian military.

 The organization has also imposed a strict Sharia law on the territory it controls in southwest Somalia.

Al Shabaab is starting to show some signs of fatigue and fissures that are going to hinder the group,” Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, a senior security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told msnbc. “Putting these individuals on Rewards for Justice at this juncture is another thing which might encourage the demise of al Shabaab. We are at a tipping point here.”

Rewards for Justice, which was established in 1984, has so far paid out more than $100 million to more than seventy informants.