Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Somali War Update: International Community Concerned at US Airstrikes

World concerned at US strikes in Somalia

Thursday, January 11, 2007

US forces hunting al-Qaeda suspects hit four locations in new air strikes in Somalia on Wednesday, a Somali government source said, as criticism mounted over Washington’s military intervention.“As we speak now, the area is being bombarded by the American air force,” the source told Reuters.

He said the attacks hit an area close to Ras Kamboni, a coastal village near the Kenyan border where many fugitive Islamists are believed holed-up after being defeated by Ethiopian troops defending Somalia’s interim government.

Four places were hit—Hayo, Garer, Bankajirow and Badmadowe, the source said. “Bankajirow was the last Islamist holdout.

Bankajirow and Badmadowe were hit hardest,” he added.

Lawmaker Abdirashid Mohamed Hidig said at least 50 people were killed in strikes he said were carried out by US and Ethiopian planes.

A Somali official said the suspected al-Qaeda militant who planned the 1998 US embassy bombings in east Africa was killed in Monday’s American airstrike.

Mohammed, 32, allegedly planned the attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 225 people.

He is also suspected of planning the car bombing of a beach resort in Kenya and the near simultaneous attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in 2002. Mohammed is thought to have been the main target of an American helicopter attack on Monday afternoon on Badmadow island off southern Somalia.

On Wednesday, Hassan said that American airstrikes in Somalia would continue.

“I know it happened yesterday, it will happen today and it will happen tomorrow,” he said.

The two days of airstrikes by US forces were the first American offensives in the African country since 18 US soldiers were killed here in 1993.

A Somali lawmaker said 31 civilians, including a newlywed couple, died in Tuesday’s assault by two helicopters near Afmadow, a town in a forested area close to the Kenyan border. A Somali Defence Ministry official described the helicopters as American, but witnesses said they could not make out identification markings on the craft.

Somali officials said they had reports of many deaths.

The US military said on Tuesday that the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower arrived off Somalia’s coast and launched intelligence-gathering missions over Somalia. Three other US warships were conducting anti-terror operations.
UN, world criticise action:

The US actions were defended by Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf, but criticised by others including new UN chief Ban Ki-moon, the European Union, and former colonial power Italy.

“The secretary-general is concerned about the new dimension this kind of action could introduce to the conflict and the possible escalation of hostilities that may result,” chief UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema said Rome opposed “unilateral initiatives that could spark new tensions in an area that is already very destabilised.”

“Before this, it was just tacit support for Ethiopia. Now the US has fingerprints on the intervention and is going to be held more accountable,” said Ken Menkhaus, a US Horn of Africa specialist. “This has the potential for a backlash both in Somalia and the region.”

U.S. helicopters launch fresh attacks in Somalia

Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 07:32 EST

MOGADISHU — The United States on Tuesday launched further air strikes on suspected al-Qaida targets in southern Somalia, amid criticism that it risks further destabilizing the lawless Horn of Africa nation.

A Somali defense ministry official said at least two U.S. helicopters struck targets in the same area where an airforce AC-130 gunship had pounded two villages the previous day.

Local village elders said at least 19 civilians had been killed in the gunship attack which, according to Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, had targetted the "principal al-Qaida leadership in the region."

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the second attack.

"We are going to remain committed to reducing terrorist capabilities when and where we find them," Whitman said.

The U.S. military intervention — its first in Somalia since the early 1990s — followed an offensive by Ethiopian-backed Somali government forces that routed Islamist fighters who Washington accused of harboring senior al-Qaida operatives.

U.S. Navy spokesman Lt Commander Charlie Brown said the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower had been deployed off the coast of Somalia as part of an operation "to monitor terrorist activities."

The air strikes caused concern in European capitals and at the United Nations where U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said he feared they may lead to a "new dimension" in the conflict and a "possible escalation of hostilities."

"Any incident of this kind is not helpful in the long term," said Amadeu Altafaj, spokesman for EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel, while Italian Foreign Minister Massimo d'Alema stressed Rome's opposition to "unilateral initiatives that could spark new tensions."

The level of instability in Somalia was highlighted by gunmen on Tuesday firing rockets into a camp housing Ethiopian troops in the capital Mogadishu, sparking an intense exchange of fire.

It was the second such attack in three days. Islamist leaders had vowed to wage a guerrilla war following their defeat at the hands of the joint Ethiopian and Somali government forces.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf defended the U.S. air raids which came after the Somali Ayr subclan allegedly refused to disclose the whereabouts of three senior al-Qaida operatives that Washington accused it of sheltering.

Fazul Abdullah Mohamed, a native of the Comoros Islands, Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and a Sudanese national, Abu Taha al-Sudan, are accused of organizing the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing at least 224 people, most of them Africans.

"The Americans had a right to carry out the air strikes on some al-Qaida members," Yusuf told reporters in Mogadishu.

"Those who carried out attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were there, so it was the right thing and the right time to carry out such strikes," Yusuf said.

"The Americans are cracking down on al-Qaida terrorists all over the world and this was part of it," he added.

Yusuf, who took office in 2004, returned to Mogadishu on Monday for the first time in 20 years. (AFP)

EDITORIAL: America’s desperate intervention in Somalia

The new UN Secretary General, Bank Ki-Moon, is worried about the latest American intervention in Somalia’s civil war. Mr Moon was compelled to speak out after US warplanes swooped down on alleged Al Qaeda elements escaping towards the Kenyan border. The raids killed between 22 and 27 people. A spokesperson of the European Union has also criticised the US air raid, saying such incidents are ‘not helpful in the long term’. The Ethiopian prime minister, whose forces are spearheading the intervention in Somalia, says Pakistanis, Britons, Canadians and Sudanese are included among the jihadists fleeing to Kenya.

Two weeks ago, Ethiopia sent its troops into Somalia to rout the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and restore the internationally recognised government of warlords which the ICU had ousted through an ‘Islamic Revolution’. Since then, the Somali people are reported as being unhappy about the Ethiopian intervention and the government of the interim Somali President, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, can hardly stand on its feet without foreign props.

Earlier, the warlords had played havoc with the country, making it ripe for the plucking by the UIC. Thus it may have a UN Security Council resolution at its back, but the world is very sceptical now about any American adventure in the region.

A White House spokesperson says that this intervention is part of the US war against terror, especially Al Qaeda. But one reason why the UN secretary general and the EU are worried is that this was exactly the pretext of the US intervention in Iraq which has gone horribly wrong. Indeed, the US incursion into Afghanistan, although it is supported by the international community, has not borne any meaningful fruit either.

Somalia, however, is an old wound for the United States. The US agreed to the nomination of Mr Boutros-Boutros Ghali as UN secretary-General and even spearheaded a UN force to enforce peace in Somalia in 1993. But when the Somali warlord General Farrah Eidid, then in control of the capital Mogadishu, cornered and killed 18 American troops, President Bill Clinton hastily withdrew his troops and punished Mr Boutros-Ghali by not allowing him a second term.

Al Qaeda made its appearance in Somalia alongside General Eidid and Osama bin Laden himself later boasted to a BBC reporter of having killed the Americans. Then, in 1998, Al Qaeda struck America’s embassies in Kenya and Tanzania with the help of terrorists trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The first time Al Qaeda struck in 1993, Osama bin Laden was next-door in Sudan; the second time, he was running his outfit from Jalalabad and training camps near Kabul. His major ‘operations’ at that time relied on Arab terrorists. But today all sorts of Muslims from other countries speaking languages other than Arabic have joined his movement by simply declaring themselves as ‘cells’ of Al Qaeda.

Unfortunately, this motley crowd is still inclined to visit Pakistan before going on to wage jihad abroad. For instance, the Britons who attacked the subway in London in 2005 all came to Pakistan as if to touch base before carrying out their suicide-bombing attacks. Under the circumstances, it would be very embarrassing for Pakistan if it is found that the ‘Pakistani’ jihadists in Somalia had been to Waziristan before going to Somalia; or that the ‘Britons’ were also of Pakistani origin.

Now China has also reported an Al Qaeda incident in the Akto county in Sinkiang province. Government forces reportedly killed 18 terrorists and captured 17 after a fierce battle at a secret training camp in the remote north-western region.

Although Western journalists are sceptical about what really transpired, arguing that the training camp could not be located in the Pamir mountain range where the Tajik minority is not in sympathy with the Uighur majority movement for liberation, there is past evidence that the Uighurs were lured into starting a liberation movement by Pakistani Islamists and Al Qaeda. President Pervez Musharraf himself told the nation in a speech that Uighurs had been found in the camps of Waziristan.

The Chinese have been very tough on the Uighur rebels because of their declared and enforced policy of not allowing any outside jihadi influence to take root. Pakistan has always been close to China, hence it tried its best to ensure that the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s was not used against Sinkiang. But it was later shocked to learn that its ‘handlers’ had actually allowed some Pakistani jihadis to brainwash the Muslims of Sinkiang.

Reliable reports have now pointed out that President Musharraf gave satisfaction to his Chinese friends by catching the Uighurs and executing them quietly without the local clergy getting wind of it.

Clearly, the world is showing decreasing appetite for an international war against terrorism as the United States gets bogged down in Iraq and — along with its NATO allies — in Afghanistan. Therefore the question for the Muslim countries in general and Pakistan in particular is that after the world is no longer interested in fighting terror it will come home to roost with them.

Also, if the West doesn’t come out and fight, it will more likely shut the Muslims out. Under the circumstances, it should be a matter of concern rather than pride that many young people from Muslim countries are leaving their homes to fight uselessly in remote lands for Al Qaeda causes opposed by the governments in Muslim countries.

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