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Call for US troops in Somalia

Irish Examiner | January 10, 2007 

Witnesses reported renewed air strikes aimed at Islamic militant targets in Somalia today, and a Somali official claimed that a senior al-Qaida figure had been killed.

Also today, a senior Somali politician said US troops were also needed on the ground to fight a Muslim extremist threat.

At least four AC-130 gunship strikes took place today around Ras Kamboni, the rugged area on the Somali coast a few miles from the Kenyan border that the US also attacked Monday, a local resident who declined to give his name told two-way radio operator Doorane Adan Harere in Nairobi, Kenya.

Presidential chief of staff Abdirizak Hassan said at least three US airstrikes have been launched since Monday and that more were likely. US defense department officials, speaking privately yesterday in Washington because the department was not releasing the information, suggested the military was either planning or considering additional strikes in Somalia.

Hassan said Al Qaida suspect Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who allegedly planned the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, was killed in a US airstrike early Monday, according to an American intelligence report passed on to Somali authorities.

If confirmed, it would mean the end of an eight-year hunt for a top target of Washington's war on terror. Fazul, one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists, was allegedly harboured by a Somali Islamic movement that had challenged this country's Ethiopian-backed government for power.

In Washington, US government officials said they had no reason to believe that Fazul has been killed. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the information's sensitivity.

In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Meles said that most of the victims in the first US air strike were Somalis, but said identities would not be confirmed until DNA testing is completed.

Fazul, 32, joined al-Qaida in Afghanistan and trained there with Osama bin Laden, chief of the terror network, according to the transcript of an FBI interrogation of a known associate. He had a five-million-dollar bounty on his head for allegedly planning the 1998 attacks on the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 225 people.

He is also suspected of planning the car bombing of a beach resort in Kenya and the near simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in 2002. Ten Kenyans and three Israelis were killed in the blast at the hotel, 12 miles north of Mombasa. The missiles missed the airliner.

The US campaign is the first US offensive in this African country since 18 American soldiers were killed there in 1993 while on a peacekeeping mission. In addition to trying to capture al Qaida members thought to be fleeing since the Islamic militia began losing ground last month, American officials want to ensure the militants will no longer threaten Somalia's UN-backed transitional government.

Somalia's Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Aided said today that US special forces were needed on the ground as government forces backed by Ethiopia are unable to capture the last remaining hideouts of suspected extremists.

“They have the know-how and the right equipment to capture these people,” Aided, a former US Marine said.

A senior Somali government official said a small US team was already on the ground, providing military advice to Ethiopian and government forces.

In Washington, two senior Pentagon officials said today they had heard of no plans to put any sizeable contingent of Americans on the ground in Somalia.

Small teams of liaison officers – such as special forces advisers or trainers - are another matter, they said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on the subject.

A third official noted that it would be virtually unheard of for the US to be involved in an operation of this size if it didn't already have “eyes on the ground.” He declined to comment on any plans for future teams and asked not to be identified because the Defence Department is reluctant to talk about special forces.

US troops based in neighbouring Djibouti have been training Ethiopian soldiers for years, mostly in small unit tactics and border security. Ethiopia has the largest military in the region and is America's closest ally in the Horn of Africa, long considered a hot spot in the war on terror.

More than two dozen men who appear to be paramilitary in civilian clothes were seen in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia in the weeks running up to Ethiopia's intervention on December 24.

Pentagon, regional US military officials and the US Embassy in Kenya all declined to comment on possible special forces operations in Somalia. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said US forces were not with his troops, but said America was supplying him with battlefield intelligence.

In the capital, Mogadishu, some said the US airstrike would increase anti-American sentiment in the largely Muslim country, where people are already upset by the presence of troops from neighbouring Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population.

The US strikes also have been criticised internationally, with the African Union, the EU and the UN secretary-general among those expressing concern. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a key US ally, insisted in remarks to lawmakers in London Wednesday that it was right to stand up to extremists who were using violence to “get their way” in Somalia.

Leaders of Somalia's Islamic movement have vowed from their hideouts to launch an Iraq-style guerrilla war, and al Qaida's deputy chief has called on militants to carry out suicide attacks on Ethiopian troops.


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