U.S. conducts second overt strike in Somalia, USS Eisenhower on station
As we noted yesterday, the AC-130 gunship attack on al Qaeda leaders in Somalia, followed by the movement of the Eisenhower carrier group from the Persian Gulf region to the Somali coast, indicated the U.S. entry into the fight in omalia was entering a new, active phase. Today, U.S. helicopters struck at al Qaeda targets in the southern tip of Somalia. The hunt for al-Qada and senior Islamic Courts leaders has expanded beyond Ras Kamboni. While the location of the strikes have yet to be confirmed, the Associated Press notes that a resident of Afmadow reported two helicopters in the area, and a Somali government source confirmed these were American helos.
There has been no official word that senior al Qaeda or Islamic Courts leaders, such as Aweys and Ayro, were killed in the U.S. airstrikes. The Washington Post and MSNBC reported Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was killed, but a U.S. intelligence source informed us that “we have zero confirmation for any of these deaths.” He also noted that Abu Taha al-Sudani (or Tariq Abdullah), al Qaeda’s ideological and strategic leader in East Africa, “was the primary target” in the strike, and and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was the secondary target.
U.S. carriers are not repositioned from the Persian Gulf without serious consideration, particularly during a time of tension with the Islamic Republic of Iran over the continuing development of its nuclear program and its involvement with the Iraqi insurgency and militias. The U.S. government sees an opportunity to dismantle the Islamic Courts and destroy al Qaeda’s leadership in Eastern Africa, and is committing a carrier to assist in this task.
The Eisenhower is now on station off the coast of Somalia, and provides an offensive punch to the naval forces of Combined Task Force 150. The Eisenhower has 60 F/A-18 fighter-bombers on hand, along with E2C Hawkeye AWACS radar platforms and accompanying support helos. The Eisenhower also appears to be augmented with Marine attack helicopters, likely from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The attack helicopters used in southern Somalia are not organic to the Eisenhower. Accompanying the Eisenhower are two Ticonderoga-class cruisers, with their powerful AEGIS air defense system, and two destroyers, and their accompanying anti-submarine warfare and search helicopters.
January 8, 2007. The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio (CG 68) steams behind the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) as an SH-60F Seahawk lands. Click image to view.
The U.S. involvement in Somalia is reminiscent of Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan during 2001. Ethiopian and Somali government forces served as ground forces, while U.S. Special Forces and CIA operations, coupled with U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities and powerful U.S. air assets were brought to bear.
And like in Afghanistan, the Somali Islamists refuse to surrender the al Qaeda operatives in their care. “Somali officials said the US air strikes were launched after negotiations with the Ayr subclan — believed to be sheltering the al Qaeda operatives — failed to disclose the whereabouts of the wanted men,” according to the Associated Press.
See The Rise & Fall of Somalia’s Islamic Courts: An Online History for additional information on Somalia.