|Home | Contact us | Links | Archives|
Pentagon defends air strikes on Somalia
January 10, 2007
UNITED NATIONS - International concern over civilian casualties mounted yesterday after the United States launched air strikes in Somalia against what the Pentagon said were "principal" al-Qaeda suspects.
U.S. officials said the offensive was based on "credible intelligence" about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda operatives, while critics note it comes just ahead of President George W. Bush's major address tonight on his administration's new strategy for Iraq and the war on terror.
The U.S. scrambled an AC-130 gunship capable of firing thousands of rounds a minute to attack villages in southern Somalia where it said al-Qaeda suspects had been spotted on Monday. Helicopter gunships carried out a second wave of attacks yesterday, but it was unclear whether they were U.S.-operated or launched by Ethiopian forces allied to the U.S.- and United Nations-backed transitional government in Somalia.
Civilians were among the "many dead" in Monday's strikes, while locals said the attacks yesterday left between 22 and 27 people dead.
With almost 200,000 Somalis living in Canada, most having arrived as refugees since the country last had a national government 15 years ago, Canadian officials say they are closely following developments.
Officials responsible for Somali affairs at the Canadian embassy in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, are expected to follow up on a statement made yesterday by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi that Kenyan authorities have detained Somalis with Canadian passports.
It was unclear whether he was referring to individuals in addition to one Canadian passport holder reportedly detained recently at the border with Kenya, whose military has been on the lookout for fleeing militants.
"Any individuals found to hold Canadian passports will be offered the same consular services as any other Canadian citizen," said Rejean Beaulieu, a Foreign Affairs spokesman.
Mr. Zenawi said the Kenyans had also arrested Somalis holding British passports and claimed nationals of Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan and Britain were among the casualties of Ethiopian military operations.
In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow said he was unaware of any consultations between administration officials and Congress ahead of the U.S. strikes.
The U.S. assault met opposition across Europe, with one senior European Union official describing it as "not helpful" to the peace process, and Italian Foreign Minister Massimo d' Alema warning such a "unilateral initiative" could spark "new tensions."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon -- in what may go down as his first criticism of the United States since assuming the UN helm on Jan. 1 -- warned hostilities in the region may now escalate because of what he called Washington's "new dimension" in its war on terror.
The United States has long said al-Qaeda operatives linked to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa fled north to Somalia, and one of three suspects the Pentagon says it targeted this week is under U.S. indictment for conspiracy in those bombings.
Another is accused by U.S. intelligence officials of leading an al-Qaeda cell in East Africa, while the FBI seeks the third in connection with the bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel and an attempted missile attack on an Israeli plane in Kenya in 2002.
But questions are already being raised at the UN about whether the strikes conformed to UN Security Council resolutions on Somalia, which include a 1992 arms embargo to try to forestall all fighting there and authorization last month for an African Union peacekeeping force to enter the country to help the transitional government prevail once Ethiopian forces leave.
For his part, Mr. Bush is now expected to use his speech tonight to warn of an expanding al-Qaeda threat, perhaps reiterating how al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman al- Zawahiri, only last month urged Muslims to "rise up to aid their Muslim brethren in Somalia."
Ahead of the attacks, analysts had speculated Mr. Bush has little new to argue as he seeks support for an expected call for as many as 20,000 additional troops in Iraq. The attacks mark the first overt U.S. military operation in Somalia since the 1993 "Black Hawk Down" debacle that left 18 U.S. soldiers dead. They follow the re-establishment last month of the transitional government in the capital Mogadishu, after Ethiopian troops spearheaded an offensive that drove out the extremist Islamic Courts Union, who fled south.
In Canada, Somali community leaders took pains yesterday to reassure Canadians that Somalis living among them do not pose a terrorist threat despite the claims the Kenyans may have arrested some on suspicion of being militants.
Source: National Post 2007