Two killed as gunmen fire mortars at Somali airport
U.S. officials say they have a policy of targeting al-Qaida but refuse to confirm an airstrike.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published January 25, 2007
MOGADISHU, Somalia - Gunmen fired mortars Wednesday at Mogadishu International Airport, killing at least two people a day after powerful troops from neighboring Ethiopia began withdrawing from this chaotic nation.
Also Wednesday, unidentified U.S. defense officials told the Associated Press that the United States launched an airstrike earlier this week in Somalia against suspected terrorist targets - the second such attack this month.
The officials provided few details and were uncertain whether the intended target was killed.
Wednesday's mortar attack in Mogadishu came as Ethiopian troops began pulling out after helping the Somali government drive a radical Islamic militia out of the capital and much of southern Somalia. Ethiopia's intervention last month prompted a military advance that was a stunning turnaround for Somalia's 2-year-old government.
Without Ethiopia's tanks and fighter jets, the government could barely assert control outside one town and couldn't enter the capital, which was ruled by the Council of Islamic Courts. The United States accused the group of having ties to al-Qaida.
The withdrawal of Ethiopia, which says it cannot afford to stay in Somalia, raises a sense of urgency for the arrival of a proposed African peacekeeping force. The African Union has approved a plan to send about 8,000 peacekeepers for a six-month mission that would eventually be taken over by the United Nations.
Malawi and Uganda have said they want to contribute troops, but no firm plans are in place.
In Washington, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to confirm any new strike but said that in general the United States is "going to go after al-Qaida in the global war on terrorism wherever it takes us."
He said the nature of some military operations, especially those by special operations commando forces, requires that they be kept secret in order to preserve an advantage in future missions.
Lt. Cmdr. Marc Boyd, a spokesman at U.S. Special Operations Command, declined to comment.
Earlier this month, Ethiopian and U.S. forces were pursuing three top al-Qaida suspects but failed to capture or kill them in an AC-130 strike in the southern part of Somalia. A main target that time was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, one of three senior al-Qaida members blamed for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The U.S. Navy also has had forces in waters off the Somali coast, where they have monitored maritime traffic, boarded suspicious ships and interrogated crews in an attempt to catch anyone escaping the Somalia military operations.
[Last modified January 25, 2007, 01:41:03]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]