U.S. strike in Somalia targets Al-Qaeda figure
A U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship attacked suspected al-Qaeda members
in southern Somalia last week, and U.S. sources said the operation may
have hit a senior terrorist figure.
The strike took place near the Kenyan border, according to a senior
officer at the Pentagon. Other sources said it was launched at night
from the U.S.
Military facility in neighboring Djibouti. It was based on joint
military-CIA intelligence and on information provided by Ethiopian and
Kenyan military forces operating in the border area.
It was the first acknowledged U.S. military action inside Somalia
since 1994, when President Bill Clinton withdrew U.S. troops after a
failed operation in Mogadishu that led to the deaths of 18 Army Rangers
and Delta Force special operations soldiers. Sources said last night
that initial reports indicated the attack had been successful, although
information was still scanty.
"You had some figures on the move in a relatively unpopulated part of
the country," said one source confirming the attack, who, like several
others, would discuss the operation only on the condition of anonymity.
"It was a confluence of information and circumstances," he said. The
attack was first reported by CBS News.
One target of the strike, sources said, was Abu Talha al-Sudani, a
Sudanese who is married to a Somali woman and has lived in Somalia since
1993 - the year of the attack against U.S. troops that was chronicled in
the book and movie "Black Hawk Down." In a 2001 U.S. court case against
Osama bin Laden Sudani was described by a leading witness as an
explosives expert who was close to the al-Qaeda leader.
More recently, Sudani was identified by U.S. intelligence as a close
associate of Gouled Hassan Dourad, head of a Mogadishu-based network
that operated in support of al-Qaeda in Somalia. Dourad is one of 14
"high-value" prisoners transferred last September from CIA "black sites"
to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
All are among the senior al-Qaeda operatives the Bush administration
has charged were shelt ered by Somalian Islamic fundamentalists
controlling Mogadishu, the country's capital. They are believed to have
fled late last month when Ethiopian troops drove the fundamentalists out
of the capital and toward the Kenyan border.
The Bush administration has been leading an international diplomatic
effort to stabilize Somalia, including organizing an African
peacekeeping force. It has called on leaders of Somalia's new
transitional government to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement with
moderate members of the Islamic leadership who are not seen as terrorist
facilitators and who are supported by a significant segment of Somali
Neither effort has met with much success. African countries have been
reluctant to offer troops and the new Somalian leaders have resisted
Sources would not confirm that U.S. forces are operating on the
ground along the border between Somalia and Kenya, although one
emphasized that "we are working very, very closely" with Kenyan forces.
The aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower was deployed in the Indian Ocean
to provide air cover for the operation and, if needed, to evacuate
downed airmen and other casualties. It joined several Navy ships from
the Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain that have been patrolling the area to
prevent al-Qaeda members from fleeing Somalia by sea, a Navy spokesman
said. Approximately 1,500 U.S. personnel, including Special Operations
forces, are assigned to the Djibouti-based Combined Joint Task
Force-Horn of Africa.
The AC-130 gunship is a heavily armed aircraft, with four cannons and
a six-barrel Gatling gun capable of firing 1,800 rounds a minute. But
its most striking weapon is a computer-operated 105mm howitzer that juts
sideways from the middle of the aircraft. An offensive behemoth that is
relatively defenseless against counterattack, it is flown only at night.