U.S. Airstrike Aims at Qaeda Cell in Somalia
By DAVID S. CLOUD
Published: January 9, 2007
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 — A United States Air Force gunship carried out a strike
Sunday night against suspected operatives of Al Qaeda in southern Somalia, a
senior Pentagon official said Monday night.
The attack by an AC-130 gunship, which is operated by the Special Forces
Command, is believed to have produced multiple casualties, the official
said. It was not known Monday night whether the casualties included members
of a Qaeda cell that American officials have long suspected was hiding in
Special Forces units operating from an American base in Djibouti are
conducting a hunt for Qaeda operatives who have been forced to flee
Mogadishu, the Somali capital, since Islamic militants were driven from
there by an Ethiopian military offensive last month.
The American attack was first reported by CBS News.
The Special Forces attack is the first military action in Somalia that
Pentagon officials have acknowledged since American troops departed the
lawless country in the wake of the infamous “Black Hawk Down” episode in
1993, when 18 American soldiers were killed in street fighting in Mogadishu.
American officials have long suspected that a handful of Qaeda suspects
responsible for the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania have been
hiding inside Somalia, a country that has not had a central government since
The search for the terrorist suspects has driven American policy toward
Somalia for several years.
Earlier this year, the Central Intelligence Agency began making cash
payments to a group of Somali warlords who pledged to help hunt down members
of the Qaeda cell.
After Islamist militias took control of Mogadishu in the summer, officials
in Washington charged that the Islamists had ties to the terror suspects,
and made demands for their handover to American custody.
The Ethiopian military offensive that began last month recently drove the
Islamists from the seaside Somali capital, raising hopes within Washington
that the Qaeda operatives might surface as they fled the protection of the
Islamists. The Islamists have retreated to areas around the southern port
city of Kismayo. Ethiopian officials have said they have intelligence
reports that members of the Qaeda cell were hiding near the city.
The AC-130 gunship is a heavily armed propeller plane that, because of its
slow speed, operates primarily at night and can direct an immense barrage of
gunfire onto a target as it circles overhead.
The attack against suspected Qaeda operatives 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
But officials have said that Special Operations forces have had difficulty
carrying out targeted strikes in the past because of the difficulty
establishing the whereabouts of wanted terrorists or getting forces in place
when a suspected militant is located.
The Central Intelligence Agency has killed a small number of suspected Qaeda
members, using a pilotless drone armed with a missile. Among them were five
people killed in Yemen in 2002.
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.