US launches air strikes at al-Qaida suspects

02:29:26 AM
10 2007

US launches air strikes at al-Qaida suspects

At least 27 killed as 'war on terror' moves to land of Black Hawk Down disaster

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Somalia became the latest frontline in America's "war on terror" yesterday after the Pentagon said it had ordered US gunships to strike at suspected al-Qaida operatives in the south of the country.
In America's first direct military action in the country since the disastrous Black Hawk Down operation of the early 1990s, the Pentagon said it had launched a series of strikes to kill or capture what officials called the "Big Three" of al-Qaida's network in Africa, operatives suspected in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.

A Pentagon official said the strikes were based on "credible intelligence" that al-Qaida leaders had fled Mogadishu to the southern part of the country after an offensive last month by Ethiopian forces.
Somali officials said at least 27 people were killed in the air strikes led by AC-130 gunships around Ras Kamboni. It was not clear whether any of the dead were al-Qaida operatives, although Pentagon officials confirmed that bodies had been seen on the ground.

The village of Haya near the Kenyan border was also strafed on Monday, Somali officials said, and there were further reports of operations yesterday.

The air strikes were the first direct military action by the US since the bungled intervention of 1993 killed 18 troops, and they appeared to be continuing. The Pentagon said yesterday it had sent an aircraft carrier, the USS Eisenhower, to join three other US warships off the coast.

"It's pretty clear that this administration will continue to go after al-Qaida," the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, told a press conference. "People who think they can establish a safe haven for al-Qaida any place have to know that we are going to find them."

The US tracked the Islamists from its Combined Task Force headquarters in Djibouti, which was established as a counter-terrorism base after the September 11 2001 attacks. The primary target of the air strikes was thought to be Abu Taha al-Sudani, a Sudanese explosives experts believed to head al-Qaida operations in east Africa.

The attack was just the sort of operation sought by hardliners in the Bush administration, who had been pressing the military's Special Operations Command for strikes against suspected al-Qaida cells.

It was supported by the Somali government, whose shaky grip has been challenged by the rise of the Islamist Courts Movement. The US "has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania", the Somali president, Abdullahi Yusuf, told journalists in Mogadishu.

The attack was carried out under cover of Ethiopia's military push into Somalia late last month, which is believed to have forced the leadership of the militant Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu.

Like Ethiopia, the Bush administration accuses the Islamist Courts Movement of harbouring and falling under the influence of al-Qaida.

In addition to al-Sudan, the US believes two other suspects in the embassy bombings - Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a Comorian, and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan - have been hiding in Somalia.

All three were believed to have fled Mogadishu after Ethiopian troops entered the capital. Initially the US tried to capture the men with the help of warlords who ruled Somalia through the 1990s until 2005, offering bounties for their capture.

In recent years, the US has deepened its cooperation with the Ethiopian intelligence agencies to try to get on-the-ground information on Somalia. Analysts said the US believed the three al-Qaida fugitives had sought refuge with Somali clans.

When Ethiopia sent thousands of troops in to back Somalia's weak government against the Islamists towards the end of last year, the US gave its tacit approval. But analysts said it remained an enormous challenge to establish the whereabouts of suspected al-Qaida cells, or to carry out an accurate strike given the limitations of the AC-130.

"It's akin to the heart of darkness, just shooting into the jungle," said Bob Baer, a former CIA agent. "At the end of the day you are just making more enemies."

Meanwhile, British officials warned of the prospect of al-Qaida followers - or "jihadists" as they called them - turning their attention to Ethiopia in response to its army's role in overthrowing the Union of Islamic Courts and forcing its members to flee Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

The officials said that these Islamic extremist fighters could now be planning to attack Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

The officials also said that other Islamic Court fighters could be regrouping in Kenya. Though the Somali border with Kenya was patrolled it was not sealed, a source said.

Amid the uncertainties about casualties, the Foreign Office said it was unclear whether there had been any British people injured in the fighting following claims in the French newspaper Le Monde by the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, that Britons had been among the international terrorists killed injured or captured.

Somalia's deputy prime minister, Hussein Mohammed Aideed, also spoke of British casualties, telling More4News: "Those who died in the war with the ICU were British passport holders, US passport holders - they were the elite who went outside, indoctrinated differently and were told that the government is not a Muslim government, that it's a government backed by infidels."

Source by Redazione

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