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   Vol. 71/No. 3           January 22, 2007  
U.S. forces bomb southern Somalia
(front page)
January 10—U.S. Special Forces warplanes carried out bombing attacks in southern Somalia January 8-10 against supporters of the Somalia Islamic Courts Council, who had taken refuge in that area. They had been routed from Mogadishu, the country’s capital, by Ethiopian and Somali troops.

The Pentagon also sent the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier to join three other warships in “antiterror” operations off Somalia’s southern coast. U.S. officials said they are targeting al-Qaeda leaders.

U.S.-backed Somali troops are fighting combatants who fled to the Kenyan border area, including the town of Ras Kamboni. Meanwhile, demonstrations took place in Mogadishu to protest the presence of the Ethiopian troops.

In 2004 Washington and European powers sponsored the creation of a “transitional” regime in Somalia, where there has been virtually no central authority since 1991. The interim government, patched together among clan leaders, was so weak that it operated out of the western town of Baidoa, not the strife-torn capital.

Last June Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) forces took over Mogadishu and much of the south. Then, in late December, Ethiopian troops and forces of the transitional government ousted the SICC. Somali interior minister Hussein Aideed said there are up to 15,000 Ethiopian troops in the country, CNN reported.

On January 8 transitional president Abdullahi Yusuf entered Mogadishu. Under pressure from Washington and the European Union, he called for “reconciliation” with SICC supporters who accepted his regime, while refusing amnesty to those accused of links to al-Qaeda. U.S. officials backed the Ethiopian offensive, saying the SICC included al-Qaeda supporters.

In Mogadishu, hundreds of protesters took to the streets January 6. They burned tires and smashed car windows, the Associated Press reported, “while denouncing the presence of Ethiopian forces and shouting defiance at the Somali government.” Two people, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed.

The next day a similar protest took place in the village of Belet Weyne, 215 miles from the capital, after Ethiopian troops there arrested a Somali military commander who refused to hand over a SICC militiaman.

During a January 7 meeting of clan elders in Mogadishu, Dahir Abdi Kulima, a chieftain of the dominant clan in the south, the Hawiye, said the government’s reliance on Ethiopian forces was causing a backlash.

For more than a century, imperialist powers have used divide-and-rule tactics to control the region, perpetuating rivalries along ethnic and religious lines. Leaders of the Hawiye clan have reportedly supported the SICC, with leaders of the Darod clan backing the interim government. Divisions have also been fostered between Muslim Somalis and Christians in Ethiopia.

Fighting has raged between government and Islamist troops that sought refuge in the jungle areas of southern Somalia, including the town of Ras Kamboni.

The government of Kenya, using troops and helicopters, has sealed off its border with Somalia. Kenyan police have combed refugee camps and arrested individuals associated with the former SICC government, including Mogadishu businessman Abukar Omar, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

Kenyan authorities said they had also arrested several combatants of the Oromo Liberation Front Movement from Ethiopia, which were allegedly supporting the SICC. They denied accusations by UN officials that 600 Somalis seeking asylum had been deported.

On January 8-9 U.S. helicopter gunships shelled the towns of Hayo and Badel on Somalia’s southernmost tip. Somali government officials said the bombing had left “many dead.” U.S. officials said the airstrikes were targeting three al-Qaeda leaders, including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, whom they accuse of organizing the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. It was the first publicly acknowledged U.S. military action in Somalia since the failed U.S. invasion of that country in 1993-94.

The gunships, operated by the U.S. Special Forces Command, apparently came from the U.S. base in nearby Djibouti. Special forces units from that base “are conducting a hunt for Qaeda operatives” in southern Somalia, the New York Times reported January 9.

The attack “is the sort of targeted operation that senior Bush administration officials have been pressing the Special Operation Command, based in Tampa, Fla., to undertake in recent years,” the Times reported.

The Los Angeles Times reported the same day that “CIA, FBI, and military teams have been tracking” al-Qaeda leaders in the region for years, and that “U.S. officials have secretly been negotiating with Somalian clans who are believed to have sheltered the three embassy bombing suspects.”

Talks were recently held in Kenya involving U.S., European Union, and other officials to discuss the sending of 8,000 “peacekeeping” troops from African countries to help stabilize the new government. The talks were led by the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Jendayi Frazer. Washington has pledged $40 million for “development” and military aid to Somalia.

The increased U.S. military presence in the Horn of Africa, including the “counterterrorism” base in Djibouti, has led to recent moves to create a new Africa Command for the Pentagon. Currently, the U.S. European Command is responsible for military operations in most of Africa, while the Central Command covers the Horn of Africa.
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