Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Somali War Update: More US Air Strikes Launched Against Civilian Areas

U.S. launches new air strike on Somalia -report

Wednesday, 24 January, 2007
By Sahal Abdulle

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - A U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship has launched a second air strike against suspected al Qaeda operatives in southern Somalia, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, citing unidentified U.S. officials.

No confirmation of Monday's reported attack was immediately available in the region and a Pentagon spokesman declined to comment. The newspaper said there was no information on the results or the specific targets of the strike.

An AC-130 gunship two weeks ago attacked what Washington said were al Qaeda agents fleeing with Islamist forces defeated by Somali government and Ethiopian troops late last month. It was the first overt U.S. action in Somalia since the end of a disastrous peacekeeping mission in 1994.

Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said he was not aware of a second U.S. attack.

Washington believes Somali Islamists harboured al Qaeda members accused of bombing two U.S. embassies and an Israeli-owned hotel in east Africa.

Any prolonged U.S. intervention in Somalia would be sure to inflame political passions there, joining the chorus of Muslims who see the "war on terror" as a crusade against Islam.

A freelance Somali journalist said on Sunday he had seen U.S. troops on the ground in south Somalia working with Ethiopian forces hunting fugitive Islamists. Ethiopia vehemently denied the report.

Rumours have swirled for days that U.S. personnel were inside Somalia since the January 8 strike but there has been no official confirmation of a U.S. ground presence.

Mortars were fired at Mogadishu airport on Wednesday, killing one person and injuring another after a U.N. delegation arrived in the Somali capital, a government source said.

"A U.N. delegation just arrived and as soon as they left the plane, two mortar shells hit the airport," the source said.

"One person was killed while another was injured," the source said, adding the victims were Somalis. The U.N. Development Programme delegation was taken to an agency compound.

A spate of attacks, mainly against Ethiopian troops backing Somalia's interim government, have rocked the capital since they helped oust Islamists from Mogadishu and much of the south they had controlled for six months in a lightning December offensive.

The Islamists and some foreign supporters have vowed to wage guerrilla war against Ethiopian troops in the country, and many Somalis suspect their militants have been behind the attacks.


Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Wednesday some 200 soldiers had withdrawn from the chaotic nation.

"We have organised that the last phase of withdrawal will coincide with deployment of AU forces," Meles told a news conference in Addis Ababa. "There will be no vacuum."

The African Union (AU) has approved a nearly 8,000-strong peacekeeping force for Somalia, but experts doubt its capacity to muster it, let alone tame a nation in anarchy since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The Islamists have been pushed into the remote southern tip near Kenya's border and Nairobi has in custody top Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

A Kenyan government official said on Wednesday Ahmed would not be deported to Somalia because he would be killed and that he has asked for refuge in Yemen.

Yemen's foreign minister was quoted as saying this month that some Islamist leaders had arrived there.

"We won't send him back. He will be killed," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

"(Prime Minister Ali Mohamed) Gedi is in town and we are trying to persuade him to talk to Sheikh Sharif, but he won't. He (Ahmed) wants to go to Yemen."

Dinari declined to comment on the fate of Islamists returned to Somalia.

Considered a moderate before the war, Ahmed is among those the United States sees as a potential force in reconciliation.

The Kenyan official said Ahmed was under the watch of Kenya's National Security Intelligence Service at a plush hotel in Nairobi's outskirts.

Many diplomats suspect a Kenyan and U.S. hand in bringing Ahmed in.

At least one Western diplomat dismissed as false reports that he turned himself in at the Kenyan border on Sunday: "He's been in the shade in Nairobi for at least a week and they have just been figuring out how to handle it."

A European diplomat said Ahmed had been in the country since at least January 16.

The U.S. embassy in Kenya said Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger planned to meet Ahmed later this week.

(Additional reporting by Bryson Hull and Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Nairobi and Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa)

Mortars hit Somalia's international airport, wounding several civilians, witnesses say

Wednesday January 24, 2007
Associated Press Writer

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) Gunmen launched several mortars at Mogadishu International Airport on Wednesday, wounding at least three civilians, witnesses said.

Abdi Mohamed, who was nearby, said he saw three injured young men who were hit with shrapnel.

``Two mortars landed inside the airport and the other outside,'' said Mohamed. ``There were three planes on the runway when the attack happened.''

The runway was not damaged, said the director of the airport.

The attack comes one day after Ethiopian troops, whose military strength was crucial to helping Somalia's government drive out a radical Islamic militia, began withdrawing. The pullout leaves the fledgling government to stand on its own for the first time in this notoriously violent capital.

The intervention of Ethiopia last month prompted a military advance that was a stunning turnaround for Somalia's two-year-old government. Without Ethiopia's tanks and fighter jets, the administration could barely assert control outside one town and couldn't enter the capital, which was ruled by the Council of Islamic Courts.

On Tuesday, Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said Ethiopia helped chase the Islamists from the capital and much of southern Somalia, but that it was time for the neighboring forces to leave.

``As of today, the Ethiopian troops have started to withdraw from Somalia. We are grateful that they played an important role in the restoration of law and order in the country,'' Dinari said.

But the potential for violence in this chaotic Horn of Africa nation remains great because of clan rivalries, resentment of the government's Ethiopian backers and a threat of guerrilla war from remnants of the Islamic movement.

Many Somalis were angered by the presence of Ethiopian forces; Somalia, a Muslim country, and Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population, fought a brutal war in 1977.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Wednesday that ``quite a few'' Somali fighters captured by his forces were being held in Ethiopia. He declined to elaborate.

A Somali government soldier said Wednesday that he saw a wounded Islamic official this week being held by Ethiopians in the Somalia city of Kismayo. He said the wounded man was Sheik Ahmed Madobe, governor of the Islamic courts in Kismayo.

``He had injures in one of his legs,'' said government soldier Deq Ibrahim.

The Ethiopian withdrawal raises a sense of urgency for a proposed African peacekeeping force to arrive quickly.

The African Union Peace and Security Council has approved a plan to send about 8,000 African peacekeepers, including nine infantry battalions, to Somalia for a six-month mission that would eventually be taken over by the U.N. Malawi and Uganda have said they want to contribute troops, but no firm plans are in place.

AP writers Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu and Les Neuhaus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Ethiopian troops kill 3 people in Somalia

Tuesday 23 January 2007.

Jan 22, 2007 (MOGADISHU) — Ethiopian troops supporting Somalia’s fledgling government killed three people early Monday during a three-hour operation in an area where Ethiopian forces have been attacked in recent days, witnesses said.

The troops were firing at several gunmen who were trying to hide in a house in the Hurwa district, said Mustaf Hassan Ali, who witnessed the shooting. He said the victims were not the gunmen but civilians in the home.

"The Ethiopians fired at the civilians when unknown gunmen sought refuge in their house," Ali said.

Ethiopian troops have come under fire frequently in recent days in the Hurwa district, which is considered a hotbed of sympathizers for Somalia’s Council of Islamic Courts. The radical group was driven out of the capital and much of southern Somalia last month with the help of powerful troops from neighboring Ethiopia.

On Saturday, gunmen fired machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at an Ethiopian convoy in Hurwa district, but missed. The Ethiopians responded with heavy weapons, killing four bystanders, witnesses and medical officials said.

Somalia has been without an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a dictator and turned on each other. The government was formed two years ago with the help of the U.N., but was weakened by internal rifts.

The intervention of Ethiopia prompted a military advance that was a stunning turnaround for the administration, which is trying to assert control in this battle-scarred country. But the potential for violence remains great because of traditional clan rivalries and a threat of guerrilla war from remnants of the Islamic movement.

Many Somalis also resent the Ethiopians’ presence. Somalia, a Muslim country, and Ethiopia, with its large Christian population, fought a brutal war in 1977.

On Sunday, Somalia’s government spokesman said Kenya has handed over 34 Islamic militiamen, and that some of them may be senior leaders of the Islamic movement.

Kenyan border patrols arrested the men in the past few weeks, said Abdirahman Dinari, the government spokesman. He said the government is investigating the identities of the men and will soon make the details public.

The government has invited African peacekeepers to help provide security in Somalia, but they are unlikely to come if fighting continues. African Union officials approved an 8,000-peacekeeper mission on Friday.

Somalia: African Union force agreed

By Ann Talbot
23 January 2007

The African Union has agreed to send a 7,600-strong peacekeeping force to Somalia to replace the Ethiopian troops who invaded the country in December. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has insisted that his forces will withdraw in a matter of days.

Meeting in Addis Ababa, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council announced that it would deploy nine battalions of 850 soldiers. The mission is to be known as AMISOM. It will last for a period of six months and begin on January 26.

The presence of Ethiopian troops, Somalia’s traditional enemy, is a major source of instability and conflict. “The sooner the Ethiopians get out of Somalia the better,” Korwa Adar told the South African based Inter Press Service (IPS). Adar, an analyst at the Africa Institute of South Africa in Pretoria, said, “Their presence in Somalia will continue to cause resentment given the long history between them.”

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin has just returned to Addis from a tour of African states, trying to drum up support for the AU mission. He told Ethiopian television,
“Nigeria and Libya have confirmed to me that they are willing to send peacekeeping troops to Somalia. Algeria has also stated its willingness to provide assistance to the cause.”

He has, however, received a definite refusal from Angola—an indication of the difficulty the AU has in meeting up to its promises.

Angolan Foreign Minister Joao Bernardo de Miranda told the Lusa news agency, “Angola has come out of a long conflict. Our troops were involved in a draining war. It is not the time for us to be involved in a foreign military force.”

The overall total promised in any event falls far short of the 10,000-plus Ethiopian troop presence. Nor will it have the air power and heavy artillery that the Ethiopians have at their disposal. And so far only Uganda has made a concrete public commitment. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has agreed to make 1,500 troops available. His ruling party agreed to the deployment at the weekend.

The AU anticipates that its force will become a UN mission after six months. As such it “will support the long-term stabilisation and post-conflict reconstruction of Somalia,” according to a statement issued from the organisation’s headquarters. For that it will need international financial support.

The actions of the transitional government are throwing that support into doubt. There have been numerous appeals by the imperialist powers for the government to reach some form of accommodation with what are routinely described as “moderate Islamists” as well as with the various warlords and clan chiefs. The aim is to provide a modicum of popular legitimacy for a regime that is seen as a US puppet and one that is militarily dependent on Somalia’s traditional enemy, Ethiopia.

Thus far these appeals have been rejected. The dismissal of the speaker of the transitional parliament, Hassan Sheikh Adan, has antagonised both the United States and the European Union. Adan is viewed as one of the few members of the parliament who is not entirely favourable to Ethiopia. He was sacked when he attempted to start talks with former supporters of the United Islamic Courts, whose leaders were driven out of Mogadishu by the Ethiopian invasion.

His dismissal makes the regime much more open to the charge of being an Ethiopian puppet and will make an agreement with the powerful clan leaders and warlords more difficult to achieve.

Adan told Associated Press in a telephone interview, “They have been ordered to vote me out by the president, Abdullahi Yusuf, who wants to rule Somalia through Ethiopian forces and through this parliament. The president wants to crack down on all those who are against him.”

US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer condemned the sacking. She said, “The past has to be left in the past ... the symbol of the president and the prime minister combining to push him out is counter to that spirit of reconciliation.”

US Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger expressed his frustration. At a press conference in Nairobi he demanded to know, “Was there a proper forum of parliament? Were the stated procedures of parliament followed? Were the procedures and parameters of the transitional federal charter followed?”

The EU will discuss the situation in Somalia next week. It is proposing to offer €15 million to help fund the AU mission, but is concerned about the dismissal of Adan. An EU official commented, “The EU will say it remains concerned by the current state of the reconciliation process.”

A draft statement issued to the press ahead of the meeting insisted, “It is of the utmost importance to ensure that all key stakeholders—including clan elders, Islamic leaders, representatives of the business community, civil society and women—are engaged.”

The chairman of the Union of Islamic Courts, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, is reported to have crossed the border into Kenya. He surrendered himself to the Kenyan security services and was immediately flown to Nairobi under conditions of high security. He is reported to be under US protection in a top hotel in the Kenyan capital.

There has been no comment from the US embassy in Nairobi. But Ranneberger has repeatedly identified Ahmed as one of the moderate Islamists with whom the transitional government should do a deal. Ahmed shared the leadership of the courts with Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, identified by the US as a member of Al Qaeda. Aweys is on the US wanted list.

Without help from Ahmed or other leading members of the Islamic Courts, alongside the clan leaders and warlords, it is unlikely that the transitional government can establish control of Mogadishu. And if the government is isolated it will make the task of the AU peacekeeping force impossible.

Last Friday night the presidential palace came under mortar fire. The president was in his palace, but was said to be unhurt. On Saturday an Ethiopian tank column was attacked. Four civilians were reported to have been killed when the Ethiopians opened fire. On Sunday Ethiopians troops were reported to have killed three civilians after they blasted their way into a house where they claimed gunmen were hiding.

The action of the US in bombing southern Somalia has made it even more difficult for African countries to intervene. Even Zenawi recognizes the problem. When Orla Guerin of the BBC asked him if he thought the US air strike was misguided, he replied, “We were there, we saw what happened. This is not to say that the American intervention at that particular moment was fortunate.” Guerin then asked him, “Do you think it shouldn’t have happened?” to which Zenawi responded, “It could have been avoided.”

South Africa is one of the prime candidates for contributing to a peacekeeping force. But President Thabo Mbeki has publicly expressed his concern about the US air raids on southern Somalia. The attacks, he pointed out, had claimed the lives of innocent civilians and would provide no solution for the tribal and political conflicts in the region. Somalis, he said, believed that the US bombing was in revenge for the deaths of 18 US soldiers in the Black Hawk Down incident in 1993.

Mbeki insisted that African countries must provide peacekeeping troops, but when Kenyan Foreign Minister Raphael Tuju approached South Africa for help, Mbeki initially prevaricated. It was left to Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad to say that South Africa would not send troops to Somalia. An anonymous South African official told the Mail and Guardian that the government was unwilling to send troops because it did not want to be seen as fighting the war on terror on behalf of the US.

David Monyae, a lecturer of international relations at South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand, told the IPS, “The recent intervention by the US planes to bomb (fleeing) Somali (Islamist) locations has complicated Africa’s position. It has muddied the water. As a result, whoever intervenes by deploying troops in Somalia will be seen as a US agent.”

“You don’t want to deploy troops that will be butchered,” he added.

Any African force that is seen as doing the bidding of Washington could rapidly find itself facing as much hostility as the Ethiopians are now. The US has so far provided $40 million in aid to Somalia. The transitional government has requested more money and assistance in training a police force and army. There is certainly support for this within the US political elite. The American Enterprise Institute recently hosted a press conference at which a representative of the transitional government announced its request for funds. The US already runs training programmes in a number of African countries. But the presence of even a small number of US personnel in Somalia would inevitably provoke hostility after the experience of Operation Restore Hope.

With African countries reluctant to step in, there is pressure on the US military to become more directly involved. Channel 4 reporter Nima Elbagir recently reported on the developing opposition to the transitional government. She warned that if the US “doesn’t go in fully, what it’s done is to create a fertile recruiting ground.” Larry Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, who was an assistant defence secretary responsible for manpower and logistics in the early 1980s, has openly speculated about US paratroopers being deployed in Somalia.

The US already has small numbers of its special forces on the ground in southern Somalia, where they have been hunting down alleged members of Al Qaeda. US General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week that the operation in southern Somalia is being conducted under the Pentagon’s authority to track down and kill terror suspects internationally.

A report in the Sunday Times has also indicated that the British SAS is involved in the operation. The paper quoted CIA sources who said that they had been using the
“professional assistance” of the SAS since the end of 2005. “The brief was to enter Somali territory with the objective of studying the terrain, mapping and analysing landing sites and regrouping areas, and reporting on suitable ‘entry and exit points.’”

The CIA source admitted that the US had been “bankrolling the Ethiopians since the start of last year, as well as providing them with satellite surveillance, technical, military and logistical support.”

The pressure on Ethiopia to pull out comes not only from within Somalia, but from the threat posed by neighbouring countries and the risk of divisions inside Ethiopia being exacerbated. President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea recently told Al Jazeera television that Ethiopia was stuck in a “quagmire.” He warned, “The Islamic Courts have not been defeated.”

Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a bitter two-year war that only ended in 2000. The border between them is still undecided and is policed by a UN force. Last month the US Council on Foreign Relations warned that an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia had the potential to become a conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. There are already low-intensity conflicts between Ethiopia and separatist movements, the Oromo Liberation Front and the Ogaden National Liberation Front. Both these movements look to Eritrea for support.

Islamists Invited Back for Dialogue

The East African Standard (Nairobi)
Cyrus Ombati - Nairobi

The Somalia Government wants Kenya to hand Union of Islamic Courts leader, Sheikh Sharrif Ahmed, over to them.

Prime minister Mohamed Ghedi said they want Sharif and his deposed supporters to participate in the ongoing reconciliation talks.

"We want all UIC officials and supporters including Sheiikh Sharrif to come to Mogadishu for the talks in Somalia," he said.

He said he believes Kenya will hand over all immigrants that have been arrested to participate in the ongoing talks.

Ghedi added that none of them would be persecuted in Mogadishu since his Government's aim is to restore peace and order rather than revenge.

The prime minister addressed several diplomats at a Nairobi hotel to highlight on what his Government has done since it landed in Mogadishu two weeks ago.

He made the address hours after the Kenya government admitted that it was holding the UIC leader who surrendered on Sunday.

Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua said police are still interrogating Sharrif without disclosing his whereabouts.

Ghedi announced that the Transitional Federal Government is now in control of the entire country.

He said they have installed a mayor and his deputy in Mogadishu and plans are underway to appoint district commissioners across the country.

He said the country's new Speaker will be known in a week's time following the sacking of the former one.

Ghedi also appealed to the international community to assist Somalia restore order. He said the TFG police are now in at all police stations in the country and have exerted their authority.

Canada 'strongly protests' man's deportation to Somalia

Monday, January 22, 2007 | 2:49 PM ET
CBC News

A Canadian who describes himself as a used clothing dealer has been deported from Kenya to Somalia — possibly into the hands of Ethiopian authorities — after fleeing Somalia in the wake of that country's civil war.

Bashir Ahmed Makhtal is originally from the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, an ethnic Somali enclave where his grandfather was a founder of a separatist movement, the Ogaden Liberation Front.

Bashir Ahmed Makhtal was deported from Kenya to Somalia after fleeing Somalia in the wake of a civil war.

Ethiopia has a large military presence in Somalia, after providing the muscle that enabled a weak secular government to defeat Islamist forces formerly in control of much of the country.

Makhtal's lawyers and family fear for his safety in Ethiopian hands.

"He's never been part of any kind extremist organization," his wife, Aziza Osman, told CBC News. "He's just a businessman."

Osman, who lives in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, said her husband had travelled between Somalia and Kenya on business four times in the past year.

Because he was travelling on a Canadian passport, the decision to deport him to Somalia rather than Canada amounts to what is called rendition, a tactic famously used by U.S. officials when they grabbed Montreal resident Maher Arar as a terrorism suspect in 2002 and sent him to Syria for interrogation.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said in Ottawa on Monday that Canada "strongly objects" to Kenya's decision, partly because the department has labelled Somalia too dangerous for travel and has advised all Canadians to leave.

Spokesman Réjean Beaulieu said the matter has been raised "at the highest level" with Kenyan officials in Ottawa and the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. He said he had no information on whether Makhtal has been handed over to the Ethiopians.

CBC Africa correspondent David McGuffin reports from Nairobi that Makhtal was picked up by Kenyan authorities on Dec. 30 as he applied to enter Kenya from Somalia. He was held at the border for three days, then moved to a police station in Nairobi.

On Saturday, he was deported to Somalia along with 29 other people picked up on the Kenyan side of the border. Their exact whereabouts are unknown.

Makhtal's lawyers believe he is in Ethiopian hands and may have been sent to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. They say he told them that Ethiopian security officers were present as he was interrogated about possible terrorist links.

His relatives, who fear he may be executed, deny strongly that he has any involvement in terrorism or ties to Somalia's short-lived Islamist regime.

"Anything could happen, any minute, any second," a cousin living in Hamilton, Ont., Said Maktal, told the Toronto Star. "You're dealing with a Third World country which does not obey international law. They don't care."

Family fled Ethiopia in the early 1970s

Makhtal's lawyers and relatives provide this background:

The family fled to Somalia in the early 1970s and ultimately to Canada to avoid persecution of ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia.

Makhtal lived in Canada in the 1990s, where he studied computers at the DeVry Institute of Technology, a private trade school, and worked for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

He moved back to the Horn of Africa in 2001 to open his clothing business, operating from Dubai, Eritrea, Kenya and Somalia.

He was stuck in Somalia during the fighting in December and January and was trying to leave via Kenya.

In Nairobi, McGuffin reports that Makhtal didn't get access to a lawyer until Jan. 10, during his second week in Kenyan custody, and was denied Canadian consular access five times before a Canadian High Commission official was able to meet him in the week of Jan. 15.

McGuffin spoke to four Kenyan government departments and the office of the president, none of which would comment. It is believed this is the first case of a foreign national in Kenya being deported to a third country, McGuffin says.

The Somali government was also not commenting, he reports, but a Somali journalist told him that Makhtal and others were seen being taken away in an Ethiopian military truck after arriving by plane in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Beaulieu, the Foreign Affairs spokesman, said Kenya did not tell Canadian officials that Makhtal was being deported to Somalia.

Canada has no resident diplomatic mission in Somalia, he said, "so you will understand that it limits our capacity to provide consular assistance."

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