U.S. tar­gets al Qaeda in So­ma­lia AC-130 gun­ship at­tack

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Rowan Scar­bor­ough

The U.S. has taken its covert war in East Africa pub­lic with an air strike on sus­pected al Qaeda lead­ers in So­ma­lia.

The Pen­tagon on Jan. 9 con­firmed that an AC-130 gun­ship at­tacked ter­ror sus­pects in south­ern So­ma­lia on Jan. 8. The tar­gets were thought to be al Qaeda op­er­a­tives who car­ried out the 1998 bomb­ings of two U.S. em­bassies in East Africa. The trio and Is­lamist al­lies have been work­ing to make the un­governed So­ma­lia a ter­ror­ist safe haven.

The strike came amid a mass ex­o­dus from Mo­gadishu, the cap­i­tal, of Is­lamist mil­i­tants who had been routed by a com­bined force of the Ethiopi­anandSo­ma­ligov­ern­ments.

In a sign that more strikes could come from the U.S. or Ethiopian al­lies, the Navy has po­si­tioned the car­rier USS Dwight D. Eisen­hower off the coast and be­gun fly­ing re­con­nais­sance mis­sions over So­ma­lia.

It was the first overt U.S. mil­i­tary strike in So­ma­lia since 1994, shortly af­ter Army Rangers and Delta Force com­man­dos bat­tled Is­lamist mil­i­tants and clans in a 1993 street bat­tle im­mor­tal­ized in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.” The bat­tle cost 18 Amer­i­can lives and prompt­edPres­i­den­tClin­ton­towith­draw all U.S. forces.

Se­nior de­fense sources say the AC-130 was not the first ac­tion in and around So­ma­lia since the Septem­ber 11, 2001, at­tacks and the sub­se­quent place­ment of a U.S. mil­i­tary task force in Dji­bouti a few miles from the So­ma­lia border. The sources said the task force has pe­ri­od­i­cally launched spe­cial op­er­a­tions mis­sions against mil­i­tants, but they de­clined to give specifics of where and when.

In ad­di­tion, the U.S. has sent a spe­cial­ized mil­i­tary intelligence unit into So­ma­lia from time to time to try to lo­cate and iden­tify al Qaeda op­er­a­tives.

The Wash­ing­ton Times learned of one mis­sion in which the unit lo­cated an al Qaeda cell in So­ma­lia and passed the in­for­ma­tion on to Jor­da­nian of­fi­cials. “They took it from there,” one de­fense source said. Jor­da­nian King Ab­dul­lah II is one of Amer­ica’s strong­est Arab al­lies in the war on ter­ror.

The U.S. has been hunt­ing three keyalQaedalead­er­son­theHornof Africa who car­ried out the 1998 bomb­ing of two U.S. em­bassies. The­yareAbuTal­haal-Sudani,Fazul Ab­dul­lahMo­hammedandSale­hAli Saleh Nab­han.

In tes­ti­mony last sum­mer, Jen­dayi E. Frazer, the State De­part­ment’s as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for African af­fairs, told Congress the three sus­pects “pose an im­me­di­ate threat to both So­ma­lia and in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ests in the Horn of Africa.”

She said U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism plan­ning­was“di­rect­lyre­lat­ed­tothe pres­ence of th­ese for­eign ter­ror­ists and in­di­vid­u­als will­ing to of­fer them safe haven within So­ma­lia.” She promised“strong­mea­suresto­deny ter­ror­ists safe haven in So­ma­lia. We must deny them the abil­ity to plan and op­er­ate.”

The U.S. task force in Dji­bouti was one of the first over­seas de­ploy­ments in the war or­dered by for­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald H. Rums­feld. One of its key tasks is to train the mil­i­tary of friendly gov­ern­ments, such as Ethiopia, in coun­tert­er­ror­ism. Ethiopia, like other East African na­tions, main­tains li­ai­son of­fi­cers at U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand in Tampa, Fla.

“We have close ties

to the Ethiopi­ans,” said a for­mer Cen­tral Com­mand of­fi­cer.

A Pen­tagon spokesman con­firmed the at­tack, say­ing it was based on intelligence on the ground. But the source had no con­fir­ma­tion of who was killed. An intelligence of­fi­cial said the AC-130 vol­leys killed five to 10 per­sons.

At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow de­clined to dis­cuss the spe­cific strike, but re­it­er­ated Amer­ica’s right to go af­ter al Qaeda glob­ally.

“It is pretty clear that this ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues to go af­ter al Qaeda,” he said. “We are in­ter­ested in go­ing af­ter those who have per­pe­trated acts of vi­o­lence against Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing bomb­ings of em­bassies in Kenya and Tan­za­nia, and we will con­tinue to con­duct what­ever op­er­a­tions we can to go af­ter that.”

“We’ve made it clear that this is a global war on ter­ror, and this is a re­it­er­a­tion of the fact that peo­ple who think that they’re go­ing to try to es­tab­lish safe haven for al Qaeda any­place need to re­al­ize that we’re go­ing to find them.”

TheAs­so­ci­at­edPressquot­edAb­dul­lahi Yusuf, head of So­ma­lia’s U.N.-sup­ported Tran­si­tional Fed- eral Gov­ern­ment, as say­ing, the U.S. “has a right to bom­bard ter­ror­ist sus­pectswhoat­tacked­it­sem­bassies in Kenya and Tan­za­nia.”

For­mer mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said the two main op­er­a­tional al Qaeda fig­ures who are re­garded as key threat­sareFazulMo­hammedanda fourth oper­a­tive, Aden Hashi Ayro.

“Ayro is fast out­pac­ing Fazul as the ma­jor threat,” said a for­mer mil­i­tary of­fi­cial close to the re­gion.

One of the for­mer of­fi­cials said theU.S.raid­wasaset­back­for­covert re­gional ef­forts to bro­ker a deal among mod­er­ate So­mali Mus­lims and the U.N.-backed gov­ern­ment.

“The ac­tion that took place as of late is none too sub­tle and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive,” the for­mer of­fi­cial said. Ini­tial in­di­ca­tions are that “mi­nor play­ers were hit and none of the big fish were fried.”

Thead­min­is­tra­tionhas­been­lowkey in dis­cussing de­vel­op­ments in So­ma­lia, as the al Qaeda-linked Is­lamic Courts Union out­fought gov­ern­ment forces and cap­tured the cap­i­tal last year. But pri­vately, it con­sid­ers last month’s rout of Is­lamists­fromMo­gadishuasav­ic­tory in the war on ter­ror.

Bill Gertz con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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