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NY Times: US Staged Anti-Terror Campaign from Ethiopia

23 February 2007

Officials in Ethiopia are vehemently denying a report in The New York Times newspaper, which says that the U.S. military secretly used an airstrip inside Ethiopia to conduct attacks against Islamic militants in Somalia last month. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has that story from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

The New York Times report, citing unnamed U.S. officials, said that Ethiopia had, among other things, allowed the Americans to use an airfield in the east of the country as a staging ground for attacks against al-Qaida suspects and their Somali allies in neighboring Somalia.

The special adviser to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Bereket Simon, tells VOA that the report, published Friday, contains little truth and called the article ridiculous.

The United States has acknowledged that it carried out two air strikes in early January near Ras Kamboni, an Islamist stronghold deep in southern Somalia near the Kenyan border.

But Simon says the American war planes did not fly there from Ethiopia.

"The U.S. has not used any airfields in Ethiopia to mount the air strikes. This seems to be a pure and simple fabrication," he said. "If any of the U.S. officials has said this, it must be a person, who has no knowledge of the reality on the ground."

Simon says that does not mean Ethiopia has not cooperated with the United States on counterterrorism issues. He says his country fully supports U.S. efforts to eliminate terrorist threats in the Horn of Africa.

"Any cooperation is most welcome, and we will continue to cooperate," said Simon.

The New York Times report says that cooperation between Addis Ababa and Washington is much closer than previously reported, and largely clandestine.

In the campaign against al-Qaida and radical Islamists in Somalia in January, the report says, Ethiopian and U.S. militaries shared intelligence and information. Members of a secret U.S. Special Operations unit, deployed in Ethiopia, allegedly moved back and forth across the border to conduct ground operations in Somalia.

The report adds that the U.S.-Ethiopian alliance has deepened in recent years because both countries share a common goal - to root out Islamic radicalism inside Somalia.

In late December, Ethiopian troops, tanks and artillery helped Somalia's secular interim government drive out a radical Islamist movement that had gained control of the capital, Mogadishu, and much of the south.

Since then, the government has struggled to stabilize the country, which has been without a functioning government for nearly 16 years.

Islamist insurgents have staged near-daily attacks against Ethiopian and government troops throughout southern Somalia. In Mogadishu, the relentless violence has killed and wounded hundreds of people and has caused hundreds more to flee to neighboring regions.

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