Somalia: US airstrikes, anti-Ethiopia resistance

Unknown Somali fighters opened fire with automatic weapons and launched rockets at Ethiopian and allied Somalian troops in Mogadishu Jan. 9. The attack came as the troops had established themselves in a building formerly used by the police force. No casualties have yet been reported, but the gunfight lasted several minutes, and was the second attack targeting Ethiopian troops in Somalia’s capital in the past three days. Somalia’s Ethiopia-backed interim government has postponed plans to disarm the public for the moment, but pledges to carry them out—by force if necessary. (Garowe Online, Somalia, Jan. 9)

Meanwhile, Ethiopian troops were dispatched to the town of Beerhaano in southern Somalia to intervene between warring clan militias. Violence in Beerhaano has taken several lives in recent days. Col. Barre “Hirale” Adan Shire, the interim government’s defense chief, held inconclusive talks with clan elders in Kismayo. (Garowe Online, Jan. 9)

In a first sign of direct Washington intervention, a US airstrike on fleeing Islamist forces in southern Somalia Jan. 8 reportedly killed an al-Qaeda member suspected in the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Although officials are unclear on which if any were killed in the attack, named al-Qaeda suspects included Abu Talha al-Sudani of Sudan, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed of Comoros and Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. Sudani and Mohammed have been accused by the Bush administration of having a role in the embassy bombings, which killed 224 people. Sudani was named in grand jury testimony against Osama bin Laden as a Sudanese explosives expert and has been described by US officials as al-Qaeda’s East African boss. Mohammed was indicted in New York for his alleged involvement in the embassy bombings and has a $5 million price on his head. Nabhan is wanted in connection with a 2002 hotel bombing on the Kenyan coast which killed 15 people.

Pentagon spokesperson Bryan Whitman said the strike was based on “credible intelligence” but he would not say whether it was successful. (IOL, South Africa, Jan. 10)

A US Air Force AC-130 gunship carried out the raid, flying out of Djibouti. US helicopters reportedly carried out another attack on southern Somalia Jan. 9, again targeting al-Qaeda. (Christian Broadcasting Network, Jan. 9)

See our last post on Somalia and al-Qaeda.