February 15, 2023

Don’t just target terrorists — deny them safe havens

Originally published in The Hill

U.S. commandos raided a remote mountainous cave complex in northern Somalia on Jan. 25, killing a key facilitator for the Islamic State’s global network. The raid adds to a growing series of operations to capture or kill those involved in plotting transnational attacks. Over the past year, at least nine Islamic State leaders have been removed from the battlefield — two of whom were taken alive.

Targeting high-value individuals within the Islamic State weakens it, but raids and airstrikes won’t be enough to win this fight. The Islamic State has routinized its leadership succession to overcome rapid losses, which means the U.S. must refocus on denying terrorists the safe havens needed to recruit and plan for attacks.

Bilal al-Sudani (a.k.a., Suhayl Salim Abdul-Rahman) — the recent raid’s target — facilitated foreign fighter travel to Somalia since 2007 and even had networks that extended into South Africa. His specialized skill set generated support for Islamic State groups across Africa and funneled money through Yemen to Afghanistan. Essentially, Sudani made significant contributions to strengthening the Islamic State’s branches worldwide. Having matured, those branches will survive without such support.

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