Sunday, January 14, 2007

American and British Military Units Continue to Coordinate the Bombing and Occupation of Somalia

The Sunday Times January 14, 2007

SAS hunts fleeing Al-Qaeda Africans

Hala Jaber in Nairobi and Michael Smith
Sunday Times

AN SAS team is hunting down Al-Qaeda terror suspects as they try to flee war-torn Somalia after the crushing defeat of the country’s Islamist forces last week.

The suspects are trapped between invading Ethiopian troops — assisted by US special forces and American mercenaries — and the Kenyan army and SAS troops who are acting as “training advisers” but have been leading operations along the border, providing a “screen” to trap terrorists.

Somalia’s interim government yesterday claimed the last stronghold of the Islamic movement had been captured with the fall of Ras Kamboni, a coastal area less than two miles from the Kenyan border.

Eleven suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists were said to have been arrested last week but three key suspects, believed to be responsible for the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, were still on the run yesterday.

The dramatic victory by Ethiopian troops was the culmination of months of preparation inside and outside Somalia by American and British special forces, and US-hired mercenaries.

The “professional assistance” was recruited by officials based in the US embassy in Nairobi at the end of 2005 as part of a deniable operation, sources claimed.

“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’,” one source said.

According to a CIA source, American intelligence and military have been bankrolling the Ethiopians since the start of last year, as well as providing them with satellite surveillance, technical, military and logistical support.

“They not only gave them money and technical support but even spare parts where needed,” the source said.

Although it was a goal of US policy to overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts which had taken power in most of Somalia, “all the investment in the Ethiopians was ultimately to get to the three suspects,” said the source.

“No army in Africa was capable of doing this on its own, and it was unlikely that these Al-Qaeda bad guys were just going to go away, so the United States decided to do something about it. The goal was limited to liquidating these targets. It was certainly not to re-establish ourselves in Somalia, nor to open up a new front.”

Last week America showed its hand when it unleashed an airstrike from an AC-130 gunship on a Somali village where intelligence suggested the three key suspects, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, 32, Saleh ali Saleh Nabhan, 38, and Abu Taha al-Sudani, were holed up.

The airstrike missed the men but, according to a senior American official, the attack killed eight to 10 “significant Al-Qaeda affiliates”. A small team of US special operations troops has remained at the scene collecting evidence to identify the victims.

Monday’s strike was the first overt American military action in Somalia since US forces withdrew from the Horn of Africa after 18 servicemen were killed by Somali militiamen in the notorious “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993.

Last week US congressmen were briefed by General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, that the Somali attack was executed under the Pentagon’s authority to hunt and kill terror suspects around the world, a power bestowed by the White House after 9/11.

Kenyan counter-terrorism police said the wives and three children of two of the Al-Qaeda main suspects, Mohammed and Nabhan, were caught as they attempted to cross into Kenya. The women were reportedly flown to Nairobi for questioning.

Despite the swift victory, there were fears that American intervention would spark a new insurgency. Gunfire could be heard in Mogadishu yesterday as militias struggled for control.

There were reports of murder, rape and armed robbery, and roadblocks have been re-established on many routes into the city by militias extorting money.

A senior western diplomat said already warlords and extremists were regrouping and rearming, though the price of weapons has risen by nearly 200% in the past few weeks.

“Unless the international community intervenes quickly it could slip back into the anarchy of the 1990s,” he warned.

Additional reporting: Richard Lough

January 13, 2007

Pentagon Sees Move in Somalia as Blueprint

New York Times

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 — Military operations in Somalia by American commandos, and the use of the Ethiopian Army as a surrogate force to root out operatives for Al Qaeda in the country, are a blueprint that Pentagon strategists say they hope to use more frequently in counterterrorism missions around the globe.

Military officials said the strike by an American gunship on terrorism suspects in southern Somalia on Sunday showed that even with the departure of Donald H. Rumsfeld from the Pentagon, Special Operations troops intended to take advantage of the directive given to them by Mr. Rumsfeld in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.

American officials said the recent military operations have been carried by the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, which directs the military’s most secretive and elite units, like the Army’s Delta Force.

The Pentagon established a desolate outpost in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti in 2002 in part to serve as a hub for Special Operations missions to capture or kill senior Qaeda leaders in the region.

Few such “high value” targets have materialized, and the Pentagon has gradually relocated members of the covert Special Operations units to more urgent missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But officials in Washington said this week that the joint command had quietly been returning troops and weaponry to the region in recent weeks in anticipation of a mission against members of a Qaeda cell believed to be hiding in Somalia.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of Congress on Friday that the strike in Somalia was executed under the Pentagon’s authority to hunt and kill terrorism suspects around the globe, a power the White House gave it shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

It was this authority that Mr. Rumsfeld used to order commanders to develop plans for using American Special Operations troops for missions within countries that had not been declared war zones.

But since the retreat of the Taliban in 2001, when American Special Forces worked with Afghan militias, Mr. Rumsfeld’s ambitious agenda for Special Operations troops has been slow to materialize.

The problem has partly been a shortage of valuable intelligence on the whereabouts of top terrorism suspects. Mr. Rumsfeld also dispatched teams of Special Operations forces to work in American embassies to collect intelligence and to develop war plans for future operations.

Pentagon officials said it is still not known whether any senior Qaeda suspects or their allies were killed in the airstrike on Sunday, carried out by an AC-130 gunship. A small team of American Special Operations troops has been to the scene of the airstrike, in a remote stretch near the Kenya border, to collect forensic evidence in the effort to identify the victims.

Some critics of the Pentagon’s aggressive use of Special Operations troops, including some Democratic members of Congress, have argued that using American forces outside of declared combat zones gives the Pentagon too much authority in sovereign nations and blurs the lines between soldiers and spies.

The State Department and Pentagon took control of Somalia policy in the summer, after a failed effort by the Central Intelligence Agency to use Somali warlords as proxies to hunt down the Qaeda suspects.

The trail of the terrorism suspects in Somalia, blamed for the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, had long gone cold. But American military and intelligence officials said that the Ethiopian offensive against the Islamist forces who ruled Mogadishu and much of Somalia until last month flushed the Qaeda suspects from their hide-outs and gave American intelligence operatives fresh information about their whereabouts.

The Bush administration has all but officially endorsed the Ethiopian offensive, and Washington officials have said that Ethiopia’s move into Somalia was a response to “aggression” by the Islamists in Mogadishu.

In the weeks before the military campaign began, State Department and Pentagon officials said that they had some concerns about the impending Ethiopian government’s offensive in Somalia.

But as the Ethiopian’s march toward war looked more likely, Americans began providing Ethiopian troops with up-to-date intelligence on the military positions of the Islamist fighters in Somalia, Pentagon and counterterrorism officials said.

According to a Pentagon consultant with knowledge about Special Operations, small teams of American advisers crossed the border into Somalia with the advancing Ethiopian army.

“You’re not talking lots of guys,” the Pentagon consultant said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “You’re talking onesies and twosies.”

January 13, 2007

As Somalia’s Leaders Meet, 8 Militiamen Die in Gunfight

New York Times

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jan. 12 — More violence erupted Friday in Mogadishu, Somalia’s bullet-pocked capital, and this time it was literally at the doorstep of the newly arrived government.

According to witnesses, presidential guards killed at least eight men of a rival militia at the gates of the presidential palace as top leaders were sitting inside discussing a new disarmament program.

The bloodshed seemed to be more evidence of a steady breakdown of law and order in Mogadishu, and plunged the disarmament plans into uncertainty.

The fight apparently started over where to park a technical, the term coined in Somalia for a heavily armed pickup truck. Militiamen of Mohammed Qanyare Afrah, one of Mogadishu’s more powerful warlords, insisted on parking their truck inside the presidential palace, but the guards said no.

The two sides starting arguing and young men with big guns crowded around. Someone shot first and each side blamed the other. That set off an intense barrage with bullets flying, windows shattering and women selling mangoes outside the palace gates scrambling for cover.

“They just opened up on us,” said Abdi Hassan Ahmed, a guard for Mr. Qanyare.

Mr. Ahmed, 22, lay in a hospital bed on Friday afternoon with a bullet hole in his thigh. Next to him was another young guard, totally unresponsive, his eyes wide open and his head in a gauze cocoon. He had been shot through the brain, doctors said.

Abdirizak Adam Hassan, chief of staff for the transitional president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, said Mr. Qanyare’s militia might have been upset about the prospects of being disarmed.

“They got restless and started shooting,” he said. “So we answered fire with fire.”

Mr. Hassan said he still considered the meeting a success, despite the fact that eight young men lay dead outside, because several of Mogadishu’s top warlords, each of whom command well-armed militias, told President Yusuf that they agreed, in principle, to surrender their weapons and help form a national army.

Still, no firm details have been worked out for weapons collection and no timetable has been set. The warlords and government officials said they would appoint representatives to study the issue further.

Such promises hardly excite most residents. Several times already, Mogadishu’s warlords and clan elders have pledged to hand over their weapons, but so far very few have done so.

The streets here still bristle with a staggering amount of military-grade firepower. It is not uncommon to see a high-powered antiaircraft gun in the hands of a teenager wearing a T-shirt, jeans and flip-flops. Boys as young as 12 bounce around the back of the armed trucks, providing an adolescent army for the city’s various powers: the warlords, clan elders, religious leaders and businessmen.

Collecting weapons has been the top priority for the transitional government since it arrived in the capital two weeks ago. With the help of the Ethiopian military, the transitional government swiftly defeated Somalia’s Islamist forces, which until last month controlled a good chunk of the country.

Ethiopian soldiers are still battling the last remnants of the Islamist forces in a remote corner of southern Somalia. Earlier this week, American military forces joined in, dropping bombs on the fleeing Islamists, who American officials said were sheltering terrorists from Al Qaeda.

The Islamists have vowed to carry on as an underground army and overthrow the transitional government, which is Somalia’s first politically viable central government since 1991, when the dictator Gen. Mohammed Siad Barre fled the country and let loose 15 years of clan-versus-clan warfare.

As events on Friday showed, those days may not be over. Mr. Yusuf is from the powerful Darod clan and Mr. Qanyare is from the powerful Hawiye clan.

Despite the talk of reconciliation, many Somalis, especially members of the Hawiye clan, fear that the transitional government will selectively disarm certain clans while allowing others to keep their guns.

“We fear not just for ourselves,” said Mohammed Uluso, chairman of the political leadership council for the Ayr, a branch of the Hawiye clan tree. “We fear for all of Somalia.”

Mohammed Ibrahim and Yuusuf Maxamuud contributed reporting.

Saturday January 13, 8:06 PM

Somalia declares state of emergency

By Hassan Yare

BAIDOA, Somalia (Reuters) - Somalia's parliament declared on Saturday a three-month state of emergency amid fears of a return of clan violence after weeks of war ousted Islamists.

Members of parliament in the government's interim seat of Baidoa -- its home until Ethiopian and Somali troops defeated Islamists who controlled much of the south, voted 154 to two to ratify Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi's plan.

The government, which is seeking to install itself in the capital Mogadishu, faces a huge challenge to bring peace and security to the Horn of Africa nation, which has been without effective central rule since the 1991 ouster of a dictator.

"A three-month state of emergency has been passed. If the need arises for the government to extend the period then the president will have to ask parliament for approval," second deputy speaker Osman Elmi Boqore told parliament.

Residents fear Mogadishu could slide back into the anarchy that has gripped the city since 1991.

On Friday, warlord gunmen tried to force their way inside the presidential palace and fought Somali troops, showing how hard it will be to tame the nation.

The shootout which killed a handful of people and came as warlords agreed to merge their forces into a new national army, was the kind of clash that was commonplace in Mogadishu.

Within hours of the Islamists fleeing Mogadishu, militiamen loyal to the warlords reappeared at checkpoints in the city where they used to terrorise civilians.

The government welcomed the vote.

"Since the country is facing a hard time, we believe the emergency law will play a crucial role in bringing back peace and in the reconstruction of our country," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told Reuters.

The government is seeking to disarm the capital's residents but few weapons have been handed in as locals wait to see whether the government can impose the relative stability they experienced under the Islamists' sharia rule.


Earlier, government forces captured a southern Islamist stronghold and Ethiopian planes pounded the area. Many fugitive Islamists were believed to be in the coastal village of Ras Kamboni near the Kenyan border after fleeing south.

"The government took over the last Islamist stronghold of Ras Kamboni yesterday evening after fighting in the morning," Dinari said.

"Most of the wanted terrorists have either died or fled. They are hiding in the forests ... Government forces are still chasing them. We will not stop the chase until we are sure they are totally eliminated."

Washington sent a warplane into Somalia on Monday to try to kill top al Qaeda suspects and Ethiopian aircraft have struck the area for days to finish a war that began before Christmas.

"Ethiopian troops are engaged in a mopping up operation against the remnants of the terrorist group around Ras Kamboni," Ethiopian Information Ministry spokesman Zemedhun Tekle said.

Speaking from the southern Kismayu port, lawmaker Abdirashid Mohammed Hidig, also acting government leader for the area where operations were being launched, said Ethiopian planes were striking sites where "the Islamists are believed to be hiding."

Hidig said U.S. forces were on the ground but were not involved in any fighting although he had not seen them. A senior U.S. official told Reuters this week he was not aware of any American special forces in Somalia.

British-based aid agency Oxfam said air raids to pursue Islamists in southern Somalia had mistakenly killed 70 nomadic herdsmen. While some Somali sources have reported scores of deaths, there has been no independent confirmation. Both Ethiopia and the United States deny hitting civilians.

Washington's strike was its first overt military involvement in Somalia since a disastrous peacekeeping mission in 1994.

It killed up to 10 al Qaeda allies, but missed its main target of three top suspects, the U.S. government said. Washington denies carrying out any further strikes.

Ethiopia, the region's major power, wants to withdraw in coming weeks its soldiers who have been attacked in Mogadishu.

Diplomats fear that would leave the government -- the 14th attempt at central rule since 1991 -- vulnerable to remnant Islamists vowing guerrilla war, warlords seeking to re-create their fiefdoms, and competing clans.

(Additional reporting by Guled Mohamed in Mogadishu, Sahra Abdi in Kismayu and Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa)

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