Lastly, al-Shabab has also show the capability to influence "grassroots jihadists" in Western countries, Stewart said, so its reach goes beyond even its military capabilities.
As for why the U.S. conducted the attacks now, experts say that strikes are entirely dependent on when the military is able to confirm intelligence reports. Stewart said that he knows of at least two prior attempts on Godane.
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And if this third attack was successful, opinions vary on what the lasting effects may be.
"You can kill a person, but you cannot kill an idea," Alexander said. "It is a fantasy to think that if you kill a target with a drone, then you can eliminate the threat of al-Shabab."
But Stewart said that the future of the group may be in jeopardy if it lost its leader: Godane "consolidated things under an iron fist," he said, so the extremists could fracture without his guidance.
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In fact, al-Shabab is under "very heavy pressure," so it would be able to maintain cohesion only under an "exceptional individual." But the extremist variety of this hypothetical leader is anything but certain: He could be a Somali nationalist, an al-Qaeda loyalist or even an Islamic State leader.
Alexander agreed that a pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State could potentially arise from a new al-Shabab leader, as its string of successes in Iraq and Syria make it an attractive terrorist bandwagon.
—By CNBC's Everett Rosenfeld.