U.S. military quietly waged a campaign from Ethiopia last
month to capture or kill top leaders of Al Qaeda in the Horn
of Africa, including the use of an airstrip in eastern
Ethiopia to mount airstrikes against Islamic militants in
neighboring Somalia, according to U.S. officials.
The close and largely clandestine
relationship with Ethiopia also included significant sharing
of intelligence on the Islamic militants' positions and
information from U.S. spy satellites with the Ethiopian
military. Members of a secret U.S. Special Operations unit,
Task Force 88, were deployed in Ethiopia and Kenya, and
ventured into Somalia, the officials said.
The counterterrorism effort was
described by U.S. officials as a qualified success that
disrupted terrorist networks in the East African nation, led
to the death and capture of several Islamic militants and
involved a collaborative relationship with Ethiopia that had
been developing for years.
But the tally of the dead and
captured does not as yet include some Qaeda leaders,
including Fazul Abdullah Muhammad and Fahid Muhammad Ally
Msalam, whom the United States has hunted for their
suspected roles in the attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya
and Tanzania in 1998.
[An Ethiopian official denied Friday
that U.S. troops used Ethiopia as a staging ground for
attacks against Qaeda leaders, The Associated Press reported
from Mogadishu, Somalia.
["This is simply a total
fabrication," said the official, Bereket Simon, adviser to
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.]
With Somalia still in a chaotic
state, and U.S. and African officials struggling to cobble
together a peacekeeping force for the war-ravaged country,
the long-term effects of the recent U.S. operations remain
It has been known for several weeks
that U.S. Special Operations troops have operated inside
Somalia and that the United States carried out two strikes
on Qaeda suspects using AC-130 gunships. But the extent of
U.S. cooperation with the recent Ethiopian invasion into
Somalia and the fact that the Pentagon secretly used an
airstrip in Ethiopia to carry out attacks have not been
The secret campaign in the Horn of
Africa is an example of a more aggressive approach the
Pentagon has taken in recent years to dispatch Special
Operations troops globally to hunt high-level terrorism
suspects. After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, President
George W. Bush gave the Pentagon the authority to carry out
these missions, which historically had been reserved for
When Ethiopian troops first began a
large-scale military offensive in Somalia late last year,
officials in Washington denied that the Bush administration
had given its tacit approval to the Ethiopian government.
In interviews over the past several
weeks, however, officials from several U.S. agencies with a
hand in Somalia policy have described a close alliance
between Washington and the Ethiopian government that was
developed with a common purpose: rooting out Islamic
radicalism inside Somalia.
The Pentagon has been training
Ethiopian troops for counterterrorism operations for several
years in camps near the Somali border, including Ethiopian
special forces called the Agazi Commandos, which were part
of the Ethiopian offensive in Somalia.
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman,
declined to discuss details of the U.S. operation, but some
officials agreed to provide specifics because they saw it as
a relative success story. They said that the close
relationship had included the sharing of battlefield
intelligence on the Islamists' positions — the result of an
Ethiopian request to General John Abizaid, then the head of
the U.S. Central Command. John Negroponte, the director of
national intelligence at the time, then authorized spy
satellites to be diverted to provide information for
Ethiopian troops, the officials said.
The deepening U.S. alliance with
Ethiopia is the latest twist in the United States'
on-and-off intervention in Somalia, beginning with an effort
in 1992 to distribute food to starving Somalis and evolving
into a deadly confrontation in 1993 between U.S. troops and
fighters loyal to a Somali warlord, Muhammad Farah Aidid.
The latest chapter began last June
when the Council of Islamic Courts, an armed fundamentalist
movement, defeated a coalition of warlords backed by the CIA
and took power in Mogadishu, the capital. The Islamists were
believed to be sheltering Qaeda militants involved in the
embassy bombings, as well as in a 2002 hotel bombing in
After a failed CIA effort to arm and
finance Somali warlords, the Bush administration decided on
a policy to bolster Somalia's weak transitional government.
This decision brought U.S. policy in line with Ethiopia's.
As the Islamists' grip on power grew
stronger, their militias began to encircle Baidoa, where the
transitional government was operating in virtual exile.
Ethiopian officials pledged that if the Islamists attacked
Baidoa, they would respond with a full-scale assault.
resisted officially endorsing an Ethiopian
invasion, U.S. officials from several
government agencies said that the Bush
administration decided last year that an
incursion was the best option to dislodge
When the Ethiopian
offensive began on Dec. 24, it soon turned
into a rout, somewhat to the Americans'
surprise. Armed with U.S. intelligence, the
Ethiopians' tank columns, artillery
batteries and military jets made quick work
of the ill-equipped Islamist militia.
As the Islamists
retreated, the Qaeda operatives and their
close aides fled south toward a swampy
region. Using information provided by
Ethiopian forces in Somalia as well as U.S.
intelligence, a task force from the
Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command
began planning direct strikes.
On Dec. 31, the
largely impotent transitional government of
Somalia submitted a formal request to the
U.S. ambassador in Kenya asking for the
United States to take action against the
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and told him
that the Central Command was sending
additional Special Operations Forces to the
region. The deployment was carried out under
the terms of an earlier, classified
directive that gave the military the
authority to kill or capture senior Qaeda
operatives if it was determined that the
failure to act expeditiously meant the
United States would lose a "fleeting
opportunity" to neutralize the enemy, U.S.
On Jan. 6, two air
force AC-130 gunships, aircraft with
devastating firepower, arrived at a small
airport in eastern Ethiopia.
Operations troops operating in Kenya,
working with the Kenyan military, also set
up positions along the southern border to
capture militants trying to flee the
Off the coast, a
U.S. Navy flotilla began to search for ships
that might be carrying fleeing Qaeda
contributed reporting from Nairobi.
Abukar Albadri/European Pressphoto Agency
A woman and her child sit in the third-floor window of their
Mogadishu home, which has been repeatedly shelled and was
hit again on Tuesday.
A picture released 17 January 2007 by the US Air Force (USAF)
shows Ethiopians from the nearby village of Bilate sitting
near an Air Force C-130 Hercules deployed to Ethiopia. The
US military remained silent on a press report Friday that US
ground troops used Ethiopian bases to fight Al-Qaeda in
Somalia, but said it would help regional allies fight
terrorists.(AFP/USAF-HO/File) ... AFP/USAF-HO/File via
Yahoo! News - Feb 23 11:20 AM
Ethiopia Denies U.S.
Troops Staged Somalia Attacks From its Territory
Friday, February 23, 2007 | AP
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — An Ethiopian
official denied Friday a report in the New York Times that
U.S. troops used Ethiopia as a staging ground for attacks
against Al Qaeda leaders in Somalia last month.
"This is simply a total fabrication," Bereket Simon, special
adviser to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, told The Associated
The Times report, published Friday, cited unnamed American
sources officials from several U.S. agencies with a hand in
Somalia policy as saying the U.S. soldiers used an airstrip
in Ethiopia to mount strikes against Islamic militants in
The report went on to say that the U.S. and Ethiopia
relationship included the sharing of intelligence on the
U.S. officials earlier acknowledged two airstrikes over
Somalia in January, but had given few details. The strikes
were reported to have been conducted by U.S. forces based in
another Horn of Africa country, Djibouti, though officials
had not confirmed that.
U.S. ships had also patrolled off Somalia's coast in search
of al-Qaida members thought to be fleeing Somalia following
Ethiopia's December invasion.
Meanwhile, Uganda's top defense officials arrived in Somalia
ahead of a planned African Union peacekeeping deployment, a
day after Islamic extremists threatened suicide attacks
against Ugandan and other foreign troops, officials said
Uganda's Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga and Chief of
Defense Forces Aronda Nyakairima said their forces would
help train a national army and provide security to Somalia's
transitional government, a Somali government minister said.
"We expect the troops to be here in two weeks," Hassan
Abshir Farah, who represented the Somali government at one
meeting, told The Associated Press.
Talks were held in the southern town of Baidoa on Thursday.
The five-member Ugandan mission then traveled to the restive
capital, Mogadishu, on Friday for further talks with Deputy
Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle to assess bases for the AU
peacekeepers, their arrival date and stabilization of the
country, Jelle said.
AU officials say they have more than $70 million through
donations from the European Union, U.S. and Britain to pay
for the Somali peacekeeping mission.
"The African Union will reimburse each troop-contributing
country for the costs incurred for their troop deployments,"
Assane Ba, spokesman for the AU's conflict prevention
department, said from its headquarters in the Ethiopian
capital, Addis Ababa.
The AU peacekeeping force is planned to reach a level of
The government, backed by Ethiopian troops, drove out a
radical Islamic movement that had gained control of the
capital Mogadishu and most of the south. The U.N. Security
Council on Tuesday unanimously approved its deployment.
Ethiopian troops have started to pull out, to be replaced by
the peacekeeping force, which will have to confront the
growing violence that has plagued Mogadishu since the
interim government took over.
An advance team of Burundian peacekeepers was scheduled to
begin arriving Friday but defense official's have been
unwilling to comment on the deployment.
Insurgents have staged near-daily attacks since the Islamic
militants were driven out, with Mogadishu's civilian
population bearing the brunt of the violence. Hundreds of
families have begun fleeing the coastal city of 2 million
people, and hospitals are struggling to cope with the daily
influx of wounded.
Somalia has not had an effective national government since
1991, when warlords overthrew a dictator, carved the capital
into armed, clan-based camps, and left most of the rest of
the country ungoverned. A transitional government was formed
in 2004 with U.N. help. Weakened by clan rivalries, it
struggled to assert authority, leaving a vacuum the Islamic
movement moved to fill.
The Islamic movement chased the warlords from Mogadishu last
year and was credited with restoring order in areas of
southern Somalia it controlled. But some Somalis chafed at
its fundamentalist version of Islam and the U.S. and the
Somali government accused it of harboring Al Qaeda suspects.