U.S. forces launch a second airstrike against suspected terrorists in Somalia

Thursday, January 25, 2007

WASHINGTON -- The United States launched an airstrike in Somalia against suspected terrorist targets -- the second such attack this month, defense officials said Wednesday.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the action was carried out in secret, provided few details about the strike by an Air Force AC-130 gunship earlier this week and were uncertain whether the intended target was killed.

One official suggested that early indications showed that no high-value target was killed or captured.

At the Defense Department, spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to confirm any new strike but said in general that the United States is "going to go after al-Qaida in the global war on terrorism wherever it takes us."

He said the nature of some military operations, especially those by special operations commando forces, requires that they be kept secret in order to preserve an advantage in future missions.

Lt. Cmdr. Marc Boyd, a spokesman at U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, declined to comment.

A variety of U.S. special operations have operated in the Horn of Africa from a base in Djibouti, a small country sandwiched between Somalia and Ethiopia.

The U.S. Navy also has had forces in waters off the Somali coast, where they have monitored maritime traffic, boarded suspicious ships and interrogated crews in an attempt to catch anyone escaping the Somalia military operations.

Navy officials said Wednesday that no aircraft from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, stationed off the Somali coast, were involved in the latest strike.

Earlier this month, Ethiopian and U.S. forces were pursuing three top al-Qaida suspects but failed to capture or kill them in an AC-130 strike in the southern part of Somalia. A main target that time was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, one of the three senior al-Qaida members blamed for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The latest operation came as Ethiopia began withdrawing troops that invaded Somalia last month to help Somalia's government drive out a radical Islamic militia that officials say has been harboring al-Qaida operatives.

In Mogadishu on Wednesday, gunmen launched several mortars at the capital's international airport, killing at least two people and wounding several others, witnesses said.

Abdilkabir Salad, who was at the gate of the airport when the mortars fell, said he saw two corpses. Another witness, Abdi Mohamed, said he saw three young men who were injured by shrapnel.

"Two mortars landed inside the airport and the other outside," said Mohamed.

The attack comes one day after Ethiopian troops, whose military strength was crucial to helping Somalia's government drive out a radical Islamic militia, began withdrawing.

The pullout leaves the fledgling government to stand on its own for the first time in this notoriously violent capital.

The intervention of Ethiopia last month prompted a military advance that was a stunning turnaround for Somalia's two-year-old government. Without Ethiopia's tanks and fighter jets, the administration could barely assert control outside one town and could not enter the capital, which was ruled by the Council of Islamic Courts.


Eds: Associated Press writer Salad Duhul in Mogadishu and Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.

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