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U.S. Opinions: Chicago

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Daring raids send message

From an editorial in the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday:

We can only imagine the rapid heartbeats as U.S. forces staged two bold raids against terrorist leaders in Africa over the weekend. But it’s the nervous cardiac response of al-Qaida allies that we hope still are pulsing the loudest: Whatever hope they’ve had of ducking American firepower has just been dashed.

One raid, in Libya, was a success that should lead to more successes: U.S. forces say they captured Anas al-Libi, a longtime terrorist who was indicted in the U.S. 13 years ago for his alleged role in al-Qaida’s 1998 bombings of American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Those slaughters killed more than 200 people and injured some 4,000 more.

The other strike, in Somalia, had more ambiguous results. Navy SEALs stormed the coastal villa of a man known as Ikrima. He’s a leader of al-Shabab, the Somali-based terror group that claimed responsibility for last month’s murderous mayhem inside a Nairobi shopping mall. American commandos came under heavy fire and evidently withdrew without capturing Ikrima, the nom de guerre for Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir.

But the message the two raids send is unmistakable: A dozen years and two presidential administrations after 9/11, the U.S. government is still in a mood to settle scores. That’s a harsh realization for enemies of this country.

You could live in a distant land, follow our domestic politics and tell yourself that Americans are fed up with fighting, are focused primarily on their problems at home. Both statements are true, but neither captures the full extent of U.S. opinion, in or out of government. If you’re a terror group member on Washington’s hit list, you have to wonder whether you'll hear the killer bullet that whizzes toward you, or the soft footsteps approaching your bedroom in the dark.

Expect to hear debate here at home about why the U.S. risked ground forces when a missile or drone strike could have obliterated the targets. Remember that in Libya the apparent goal was capture. And in Somalia, U.S. officials say they had indications that a dozen or more family members and other innocents were at Ikrima’s compound.

That’s not, by itself, a reason to rely on troops rather than armaments alone. In a speech last spring, Obama made a compelling point as he defended his administration’s drone program, controversial here and overseas: “Let us remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from (U.S.) drone strikes,” he said.

But we don’t yet know enough about these missions to evaluate the tactics involved. Nor do we know whether these two raids suggest a shift from killing militants to capturing them.

Today, though, is for reflecting on the truism that eradicated Osama bin Laden: the world is big, rife with hidey-holes and the sense of security they bring.

Still, when someone has the tenacity and technology to go after you, security can be a fleeting sentiment.

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