October 7th, 2013
10:23 AM ET

U.S. Special Forces Capture Al Qaeda Operative

Two secret blitzes. Two high-value targets. Two very different outcomes.

U.S. forces launched dual raids on the northern and eastern coasts of Africa over the weekend in the hunt for two suspected terrorists: Abu Anas al Libi, an al Qaeda operative wanted for the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and an Al-Shabaab foreign fighter commander named Ikrima.

American forces snatched al Libi in the Libyan capital Saturday morning. But 3,000 miles away, the plan to catch Ikrima didn't go as planned. Navy SEALs came under heavy fire during their raid and had to retreat - not knowing whether Ikrima was dead or alive.

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“In both countries, U.S. commandos had been secretly gathering intelligence, conducting surveillance for weeks on their target," reports CNN's Barbara Starr. "In the war on terror, U.S. officials say, expect to see more of these secret lightning raids.”

A member of both the DHS and CIA external advisory boards, CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend breaks down the significance of both these raids.

A key player in the 1998 bombings, al Libi’s capture represents “a real message not only to this individual, because of his operational importance, but to those who would do Americans harm, we don't ever forget. We don't ever stop tracking you, chasing you, and looking for the opportunity,” Townsend says.

Meanwhile, Townsend also considers the U.S. operation in pursuit of Ikrima a huge success for the United States and U.S. intelligence regardless of the outcome.

“It's taken ten years and a lot of under surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence collection in order to get the tactical intelligence required to know where he was, when he was there and to be able to support such a raid. So, the fact that we 20 years later actually had that sort of tactical intelligence in such a chaotic difficult environment says a lot about the capability of the United States.”

“It truly is an inner agency operation using all of the elements of our federal government, inner agency intelligence operations, and it's worldwide right now,” says former Delta Force Officer James Reese, giving insight into how these raids are performed.

“What's really happening right now with the guys on the ground, they're using this inner agency piece to help them gather the intelligence to make sure when they get the elements to go, they get those factors to go, they have all the aspects on the ground to make that operation successful.”

While the operation in Somalia didn't prove fully successful, Reese says the commanders followed the intelligence available and responded to the risk at hand.

“The one piece every ground force commander has is they want to limit collateral damage, and as that ground force commander makes those assessments on the ground, if the collateral damage starts to increase or if they stay the fight and that collateral damage could increase…, they give the option to that ground force commander to make that determination to withdraw from that time.”

Reese says ground force commanders want to be “very surgical.”

“They want to be like ghosts. They want to get in, they want to get out. they want to do the capture or kill. They don't want to be into a long, sustained operation on the ground.”

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