Associated Press & Deutsche Welle & The New York Times & Anne Penketh – 2007-01-10 23:06:54
US Airstrikes in Somalia Target Embassy Bombers
(January 9, 2007) — Two US airstrikes in Somalia killed large numbers of Islamic extremists, government officials and witnesses said today. The targets were suspects in the bombings of two US embassies in East Africa in 1998.
The attacks, by an AC-130 gunship, came after the terror suspects were spotted hiding on a remote island on the southern tip of Somalia, close to the Kenyan border, Somali officials said. The island and a site 155 miles north were hit.
One US attack took place yesterday afternoon on Badmadow island. The area is known as Ras Kamboni and is suspected to be a terror training base.
Ethiopian and Somali troops had over the last days cornered the main Islamic force in Ras Kamboni, with US warships patrolling off shore and the Kenyan military guarding the border to watch for fleeing militants.
Witnesses said at least four civilians were killed in another attack 30 miles east of Afmadow town, including a small boy. The claims could not be independently verified.
“My four-year-old boy was killed in the strike,” Mohamed Mahmud Burale told the AP by telephone. “We also heard 14 massive explosions.”
The AC-130, a four engine turboprop-driven aircraft, is armed with 40 mm cannon that fire 120 rounds per minute and a 105 mm cannon, normally a field artillery weapon. The plane’s latest version, the AC-130U, known as ” Spooky,” also carries Gatling gun-type 20 mm cannon. The gunships were designed primarily for battlefield use to place saturated fire on massed troops.
“We don’t know how many people were killed in the attack but we understand there were a lot of casualties,” government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said. “Most were Islamic fighters.”
It was the first overt military action by the US in Somalia since the 1990s and the legacy of a botched intervention — known as “Black Hawk Down” — that left 18 US servicemen dead. The US military said today it had sent an aircraft carrier to join three other US warships conducting anti-terror operations off the Somali coast.
US warships have been seeking to capture al-Qaida members thought to be fleeing Somalia after Ethiopia invaded on December 24 in support of the government and have begun flying intelligence-gathering missions over Somalia.
President Abdullahi Yusuf told journalists in the capital, Mogadishu, that the US “has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.” Yesterday, Yusuf had entered the restive capital for the first time since his election.
Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Aideed told The Associated Press the US had ” our full support for the attacks.”
But others in the capital said the attacks would only increase anti-American sentiment in the largely Muslim country.
“US involvement in the fighting in our country is completely wrong,” said Sahro Ahmed, a 37-year-old mother of five.
Already, many people in predominantly Muslim Somalia had resented the presence of troops from neighbouring Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population and has fought two brutal wars with Somalia, most recently in 1977.
Ethiopian forces had invaded Somalia to prevent an Islamic movement from ousting the weak, internationally recognised government from its lone stronghold in the west of the country. The US and Ethiopia both accuse the Islamic group of harbouring extremists, among them al-Qaida suspects.
US officials said after the September 11 attacks that extremists with ties to al-Qaida operated a training camp at Ras Kamboni and al-Qaida members are believed to have visited it. The alleged mastermind of the embassy bombings in East Africa, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, escaped to Ras Kamboni, according to testimony from one of the convicted bombers.
Mohammed is believed to be the leader of the al-Qaida East Africa cell.
Leaders of the Islamic movement have vowed from their hideouts to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war in Somalia, and al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden’s deputy has called on militants to carry out suicide attacks on the Ethiopian troops.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, sinking the Horn of Africa nation of 7 million people into chaos.
Europe Critical of US Airstrikes in Somalia
(January 10, 2007) — European criticism of US military intervention in Somalia mounted on Wednesday amid reports of fresh American air strikes in the southern part of the country aimed at hunting down al Qaeda suspects.
The US military intervention in Somalia — the first of its kind since a disastrous humanitarian mission ended in 1994 — has sparked widespread criticism from the international community.
The European Union, United Nations and former colonial power Italy condemned the attacks which they say could only serve to further destabilize an already weakened and volatile region.
On Monday, Washington confirmed an airstrike on a southern village in Somalia by an AC-130 plane firing cannon.
That attack — which according to Somali officials killed many people — was part of a wider offensive involving Ethiopian plans targeting an al Qaeda cell. US officials confirmed that the attack killed one of three al Qaeda suspects. According to CNN, Somali officials said the airstrike killed the suspected orchestrator of the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa.
On Wednesday, reports trickled in of a fresh US strike close to a coastal village near the Kenyan border where many fugitive Somali Islamists were believed to be hiding after being ousted by Ethiopian troops defending Somalia’s interim government.
UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said new UN chief Ban Ki-
moon was distressed by Washington’s move.
“The secretary-general is concerned about the new dimension this kind of action could introduce to the conflict and the possible escalation of hostilities that may result,” Montas said.
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema said Rome opposed “unilateral initiatives that could spark new tensions in an area that is already very destabilized.”
Norway, a member of the international contact group on Somalia along with Italy, said it was not satisfied with Washington’s explanation of its conduct in Somalia and stressed that terrorism should be fought in a court room and not with military hardware.
The European Commission also slammed US moves to hunt down al Qaeda operatives in Somalia.
“Any incident of this kind is not helpful in the long term,” a spokesman for the EU Commission told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday. “Only a political solution can bring any serious prospects of peace and stability in Somalia.”
Al Qaeda Members May Have Been Killed
Washington believes that hardline Islamists in the region in and around Somalia have for years been harboring three al Qaeda members wanted for their roles in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
The US is in particular looking for an al Qaeda operative, Abu Talha al-Sudani, a Sudanese identified in evidence given against Osama bin Laden as an explosives expert. Washington believes he financed and directed the 2002 hotel bombing in Kenya.
However, according to Somali officials, American air raids may have killed the suspected al Qaeda terrorist who planned the 1998 United States embassy bombings in east Africa.
“I have received a report from the American side chronicling the targets and list of damage,” Abdirizak Hassan, the Somali president’s chief of staff, told the Associated Press. “One of the items they were claiming was that Fazul Abdullah Muhammad is dead.”
American officials have said that Mr. Muhammad, 32, planned the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 225 people.
Experts Question Timing of US Strike
But, experts are questioning the timing of the US strikes on Somalia considering that last week Washington had the stressed the importance of political negotiations within the Somalia contact group and had also signaled it might provide funds for an African peacekeeping force in the country.
Annette Weber, an expert on Somalia at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs criticized the timing of the US attack “at a time when the Americans should be strategically adopting very different positions.”
Weber told Deutsche Welle that the US didn’t seem to have a well-thought out concept for bolstering their battle against terrorism in the region, which is called “Enduring Freedom.”
“There is no plan to keep the Horn of Africa stable,” Weber said, adding that the US had tried to hunt down individuals and clans at the risk of squandering away the search for a solution for the whole country.
“The fragmentation that will take place now, the return to the old warlord system won’t really be helpful in reaching the aims of ‘Enduring Freedom’.”
© Deutsche Welle
Airstrike Rekindles Somalis’ Anger at the US
Jeffrey Gettleman & Mark Mazzetti / New York Times
MOGADISHU, Somalia (January 9, 2007) — Somali officials said Tuesday that dozens of people were killed in an American airstrike on Sunday, most of them Islamist fighters fleeing in armed pickup trucks across a remote, muddy stretch of the KenyaSomalia border.
American officials said terrorists from Al Qaeda had been the target of the strike, which they said had killed about a dozen people. But the officials acknowledged that the identities of the victims were still unknown.
Several residents of the area, in the southern part of the country, said dozens of civilians had been killed, and news of the attack immediately set off new waves of anti-American anger in Mogadishu, Somalia’s battle-scarred capital, where the United States has a complicated legacy.
“They’re just trying to get revenge for what we did to them in 1993,” said Deeq Salad Mursel, a taxi driver, referring to the infamous “Black Hawk Down” episode in which Somali gunmen killed 18 American soldiers and brought down two American helicopters during an intense battle in Mogadishu.
The country’s Islamist movement swiftly seized much of Somalia last year and ruled with mixed success, bringing a much desired semblance of peace but also a harsh brand of Islam.
Two weeks ago, that all changed after Ethiopian-led troops routed the Islamist forces and helped bring the Western-backed transitional government to Mogadishu. Ethiopian officials said the Islamists were a growing regional threat.
The last remnants of the Islamist forces fled to Ras Kamboni, an isolated fishing village on the Kenyan border that residents said had been used as a terrorist sanctuary before. Starting in the mid-1990s, they said, the Islamists built trenches, hospitals and special terrorist classrooms in the village and taxed local fisherman to pay the costs.
On Sunday, an American AC-130 gunship pounded the area around Ras Kamboni, and also a location father north where American officials said three ringleaders of the bombings in 1998 of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were hiding. Somali officials said those bombings had been planned in Ras Kamboni after a local Somali terrorist outfit invited Al Qaeda to use the village as a base.
According to Abdul Rashid Hidig, a member of Somalia’s transitional parliament who represents the border area, the American airstrike on Sunday wiped out a long convoy of Islamist leaders trying to flee deeper into the bush, though he said he did not know if the specific suspects singled out by the United States had been with them.
“Their trucks got stuck in the mud and they were easy targets,” he said.
Mr. Hidig toured the area with military officials on Tuesday and said he had met several captured foreign fighters who had come from Europe and the Middle East. “I saw two white guys and asked, Where are you from?” Mr. Hidig said. “One said Jordan, the other Sweden. Yeah, it was weird.”
Mr. Hidig said two civilians had been killed by the airstrike, but representatives of the Islamist forces said it had killed many more.
The Islamists’ health director said dozens of nomadic herdsmen and their families were grazing their animals in the same wet valley that the Islamists were trying to drive across. “Their donkeys, their camels, their cows — they’ve all been destroyed,” he said. “And many children were killed.”
He spoke by telephone from an undisclosed location; his account could not be independently verified.
Mustef Yunis Culusow, a former Islamist leader who abandoned the movement days ago, said the once-powerful Islamist movement’s top leaders were now trapped in a small village with Ethiopian soldiers in front of them, the Indian Ocean behind them and now American gunships circling above them.
“The leaders know they’re finished,” Mr. Culusow said in a telephone interview from Kismayo, a large town north of Ras Kamboni. “They’ve basically told the young fighters they can go, it’s over, and that anyone who stays behind should be resigned to die.”
For several days, Ethiopian fighter jets and helicopter gunships have been laying down a blanket of fire over the area, and attacks continued on Tuesday.
American military and intelligence officials expressed confidence that at least one senior Qaeda leader in Somalia had been killed in the American attack or subsequent strikes by Ethiopian troops. One official said Abu Taha al-Sudani — a Sudanese aide to Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who is thought to be the ringleader of Al Qaeda’s East African cell — might have been killed.
American military and intelligence officials said that they expected further military strikes but that the terrorism suspects were probably traveling separately and trying to blend into the civilian population.
Pentagon and intelligence officials said the Ethiopian offensive had unearthed fresh intelligence about the location of Qaeda operatives whose trail had long gone cold.
“When you disrupt things and people move around, they become easier to target,” said one American counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They have to make arrangements on the fly, and they become easier to find.”
American and Ethiopian forces are sharing intelligence to pinpoint the whereabouts of the terrorism suspects and their entourages. The Pentagon announced that the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower had been dispatched to the region to tighten a naval blockade off the Somali coast.
Washington’s decision to wade back into Somalia was, in a way, a culmination of America’s seesaw policy toward the country in the last five years.
With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan consuming the attention of national security planners in Washington, the Bush administration’s interest in Somalia was driven primarily by fact that a handful of Qaeda operatives responsible for attacks in the Horn of Africa were thought to be hiding there.
America’s recent forays into Somalia have tended to backfire. President Clinton abruptly curtailed a large American-led aid mission in the 1990s after the 18 soldiers were killed, leaving the country in a swirl of chaos and bloodshed, where much of it remains.
Then, last summer, American efforts to finance a band of Mogadishu warlords as a bulwark against the growing Islamist movement stumbled when many Somalis learned of the hidden American hand and threw their support behind the Islamists.
With the Pentagon still snakebitten by its experience in Somalia — rendering a ground offensive in the lawless country unpalatable — there was little the thousands of American soldiers and marines stationed in neighboring Djibouti could do to track down the Qaeda suspects.
Until this week, Washington was content to remain behind the scenes and use the Ethiopian invasion as the public face of the effort against the Islamists and their allies.
Now the Islamists have lost their grip on the country, and Somalia could be close to a turning point. For the first time since 1991, when the military dictator Mohammed Siad Barre fled, plunging the country into anarchy, there is a potentially viable government in the capital. But its survival depends on the thousands of Ethiopian troops still here, and increasingly, it seems, many Somalis do not like them. For their part, the Ethiopians have vowed not to stay much longer.
Some call the Ethiopians infidel invaders because Ethiopia is a country with a long Christian identity, though it is in fact half Muslim. Others do not like them because Ethiopia is a close ally of the United States, which is why American airstrikes could make things difficult for the Ethiopians and transitional government officials.
Some Islamists have vowed to carry on as an Iraq-style insurgency, and on Tuesday night two truckloads of gunmen attacked Ethiopian troops based at a government building, the former Ministry of Skins and Hides, in downtown Mogadishu.
The booms of rocket-propelled grenades echoed across town and set off a two-minute gunfight. As shoppers in a nearby market ducked for cover, spent shells clinked on the pavement. Afterward, residents reported seeing two bodies on the street.
Jeffrey Gettleman reported from Mogadishu, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington. Mohammed Ibrahim and Yuusuf Maxamuud contributed reporting from Mogadishu.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
What This Means for a Region
Consumed by War and Chaos
Is this a significant moment in the conflict?
Very. It marks the first time that the US has intervened directly in Somalia since the 1993 debacle in Mogadishu, when the ambush of US Rangers traumatised Washington policymakers and the public. Until now, the latest round in Somalia’s seemingly endless chaos has been a proxy war, with the US backing the Ethiopians who had sent troops into Somalia against the Islamic Courts Union, which is backed by Eritrea.
Will the US attacks escalate the conflict?
Probably, because of the number of civilians killed by the American missiles. More Somalis could join the ranks of the Islamists who have just suffered a defeat in their fight against the transitional government.
The Americans and their regional allies will say that the operation was a “one off” because it was an opportunity to hit al-Qa’ida leaders in Somalia wanted for the 1998 US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. However, there is a danger that the Americans will intervene again and be dragged further into the quagmire – at a time when the Bush administration wants to concentrate on boosting the military in Iraq.
What are the chances now for a political solution?
Pretty slim. The European Union said the US action was “not helpful” in the long term. Peace talks are the only way to build national reconciliation, and they have made no progress in months. The longer the transitional government is propped up by Ethiopian forces, the more elusive a peace deal will become, and the Islamists could regroup.
Somalis oppose outside intervention, and have fought two wars against the Ethiopians. The Ethiopians say they only intend to keep their troops in Somalia for a few more weeks, pending the arrival of a UN-backed African “stabilisation” force. However, the peacekeepers, to be provided by Uganda, are only likely to be deployed when there is a peace to keep. And it remains to be seen whether they would be welcomed with open arms by the Somalis.
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