Wednesday, June 13, 2007

U.S. readying new air strikes in Puntland?

No sooner do I get back to my Somalia blog after a month's absence than I find my government preparing to send attack aircraft into northern Somalia in supposed pursuit of terrorists seeking America's destruction in the desert hills of Puntland. This after having shelled the same area from warships off the Somali coast two weeks earlier, ostensibly to knock off the same al Qaeda-linked terrorists reported to be hiding there. Obviously the earlier attack was unsuccessful, but one wonders how much collateral killing and destruction resulted then—and how much more can be expected this time.

Why is it I find it difficult to believe that these U.S. attacks in Puntland are unrelated to the political interests of Interim President Abdullahi Yusuf, who hails from that very region of the country and who has for years—in his capacity as regional warlord—been engaged in a bitter power contest there with certain political opponents with ties to the Islamic Courts movement?

  • Is the U.S. military, under the fraying banner of the War on Terror, again proving its inability to learn from experience, either in Somalia or Iraq?

  • In what way does it serve American interests to become entangled, yet once more, in local clan rivalries and religious disputes that we don't understand and can't possibly resolve?

As my friend Sadia has remarked a propos of these air attacks, "Our president asked, 'Why do they hate us?' I think I am figuring it out."

AFP - Tuesday, June 12 08:08 pm

MOGADISHU (AFP) - US warplanes are overflying the northern Somali region of Puntland in preparation for air-strikes against suspected Al-Qaeda fugitives, more than a week after US warships shelled the area, officials said Tuesday.

The semi-autonomous regional government had authorised the overflights to pursue Al-Qaeda members believed to be hiding in the moutainous area, Puntland's security minister Ibrahim Artan Ismail told reporters. . . .

"We know that American warplanes are overflying Puntland territory. This air surveillance is part of an agreement reached between Puntland authorities and the Americans," Islamil told a news conference in northern Somali town of Bosasso.

"The warplanes are looking for Al-Qaeda hideouts and when they get them, they will bomb them," he said, adding that the air operation covers areas where intelligence shows Al-Qaeda elements are hiding.

Residents told Somali media that US planes have been overfying the area.

Ismail asked residents of the inland mountanious areas and the hilly shoreline "not to worry about planes flying over them."

A US navy destroyer shelled the coast on June 2, killing at least 12 Islamist fighters, including foreigners, who were believed to be allied to extremist groups, Puntland officials said.

CNN reported that the destroyer was targeting a suspected Al-Qaeda operative believed to have been involved in the 1998 attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.

Earlier this year, a US plane bombed positions in southern Somalia after Ethiopia-backed Somali government forces ousted a powerful Islamist movement from the country's southern and central regions. Local elders said more than 100 civilians were killed.

The targets were suspected Al-Qaeda operatives blamed both for the 1998 US embassy bombings and the 2002 suicide attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in the Kenyan port of Mombasa that killed 15 people.

Among the so-called "high value" Al-Qaeda militants believed to be in Somalia are Fazul Abdullah Mohammed from the Comoros, Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and Sudanese national Abu Taha al-Sudani, an arms expert believed to be close to Osama bin Laden.

Others are Sheikh Dahir Aweys, the hardline cleric heading Somalia's Islamic Courts Union, and Adan Hashi Ayro, the commander of the Islamists' militia wing, the Shabaab.

A US force is based in Djibouti and patrols the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden as part of the US-led "war on terror".

US intelligence says Al-Qaeda has stepped up operations in Somalia, a nation of about 10 million people wracked by lawlessness since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Somalia's Puntland and neighbouring Somaliland regions have declared a form of autonomy and have enjoyed relative stability compared to Somalia proper, which has been wracked by lawlessness since 1991.

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