Somalia: facts of US air-strike disputed; exiles deported for opposing intervention

Ethiopian and US forces are still in pursuit of three supposed al-Qaida militants originally said to have been killed in the US airstrike of Jan. 8, with an anonymous “senior US official” in Kenya telling AP that they all survived the raid. The official confirmed the US “special operations forces” were in Somalia, but said they were focused only on tracking down the suspected terrorists and not members of the Somali Islamist militia. “The three high-value targets are still of intense interest to us,” the official said. “What we’re doing is still ongoing, we’re still in pursuit, us and the Ethiopians.”

Holdout Islamist forces have taken refuge to Somalia’s southernmost point, between the Kenyan border and the Indian Ocean. Skirmishes continue in the region. Ethiopia said it has launched helicopter and troop attacks around the town of Dhobley, about four miles from the Kenyan border. The US Navy has moved new forces into waters off the Somali coast, where they are monitoring maritime traffic and have interrogated crews on suspicious ships in international waters.

The US accuses the Somali Islamists of harboring three top suspects wanted in connection with the 1998 African embassy bombings: Fazul, Abu Talha al-Sudani and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan.

Police at the Kenyan coastal border town of Kiunga have reportedly arrested the wives and children of two of the embassy bombing suspects after they escaped across the frontier.

A Somali human rights group said that thousands of Somalis fleeing the fighting were now stranded on the Kenyan border, which has been closed. “Thousands are in a bad condition and they do not have food and water. They are stranded at the border after Kenya closed it and they cannot go back to their houses for two reasons: the ongoing airstrikes and lack of transportation,” said Ali Bashi, chairman of the Fanole group. (AP, Jan. 11)

Officials from Somali’s transition government said dozens were killed in the US airstrikes, mostly Islamist fighters fleeing in armed pickup trucks. But several residents of the area said dozens of civilians had been killed. News of the attack immediately set off new waves of anti-American anger in Mogadishu. “They’re just trying to get revenge for what we did to them in 1993,” a taxi driver told the New York Times, referring to the infamous “Black Hawk Down” episode in which Somali gunmen killed 18 US soldiers and downed two helicopters during a battle in Mogadishu. (NYT, Jan. 10)

Meanwhile, lawmakers from Somalia’s transition government, who remain in a poor neighborhood in Nairobi, are being deported back to Somalia—apparently for opposing the foreign intervention in their country. At least 21 Somali MPs were arrested briefly last week after they held a news conference in a hotel in Eastleigh, the Somali immigrant enclave in Nairobia, opposing the presence of Ethiopian troops and the US air strikes in their homeland.

Somali MP Sharif Saleh Mohammed told reporters in Nairobi that the Kenyan police had presented them the expulsion order to depart from Kenya by week’s end. “The Kenyan government has shown us that we are not welcome in its country, given to our opposition to the occupation of our country by Ethiopian troops,” Salah said.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Raphael Tuju said last week: “We cannot put up with people who call themselves leaders and oppose their government because of their personal self-centeredness and interest to stay in Kenya where they intend to destroy their government.” (SomaliNet, Jan. 11)

See our last post on Somalia and the horn of Africa.