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US Airstrikes on Al Qaeda in Somalia

The United States is believed to have carried out a number of covert operations in the Horn of Africa since September 11, 2001, but January 2007 saw the first overt, publicly acknowledged strikes. The Horn of Africa and the waters surrounding it had been the site of various counterterrorism and humanitarian operations carried out by the Combined Joint Task Force- HOA. The Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a coalition of Somali militias accused by the United States of having ties to Al Qaeda, became a target for American forces in the region after the Great 4-Day War.

The ICU, since its crippling defeat at the hands of Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces, had engaged in a mass exodus from Mogadishu and other strongholds. Its members and militias were believed to be concentrated in the southwestern part of the country bordering Kenya. Three prime suspects in the 1998 bombings of the US’ Tanzanian and Kenyan embassies, Abu Talha al-Sudani, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, were reported to be on the run with the ICU. All three men were also believed to have had a role in the 28 November 2002 suicide attacks on a Kenyan hotel and concurrent missile attacks on an Israeli passenger jet.

The first airstrike took place on 8 January 2007 against a suspected hideout in a forest near the town of Afmadow. An AC-130 gunship is believed to have orbited and bombarded the area for about 30 to 45 minutes. A second set of airstrikes was carried out by helicopter gunships on 9 January 2007 on more targets in teh Afmadow area. On January 10 2007, the four additional strikes were carried out in areas near the coastal village of Ras Kamboni. The type(s) of aircraft used is unknown. On the ground, Somali officials traveled on Ethiopian helicopters to the sites of the airstrikes.

Throughout this campaign, the US aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower and its battle group were off the coast of Somalia along with ships operating under the British-led Combined Task Force 150. Aircraft from the Eisenhower flew support missions for the airstrikes as well as reconnaissance of locations in Somalia. As of 11 January 2007, it was not known if any aircraft from the battle group had directly participated in the strikes.

As of 11 January 2007, US officials refused to say who or what the targets were or whether they had been hit. Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed only that the first strike on Sunday was against principal Al Qaeda leadership. The Somali government, however, reported that embassy bombing suspect Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan were killed in one of the airstrikes. Reports of other casualties came from both official and unofficial Somali sources. At least twenty civilians were reported to have died in the attacks and a wedding party was reported to have been struck. US officials said that any civilian casualties may have been caused by separate Ethiopian strikes elsewhere in Somalia.



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