January 13, 2007

Pentagon sees its actions in Somalia as blueprint

Somalia's defense minister says last stronghold of militant Muslim militia has fallen.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

WASHINGTON — U.S. commandos' military operations in Somalia and the use of the Ethiopian army as a surrogate force to root out al Qaeda operatives there provide a blueprint for counterterrorism missions across the globe, Pentagon strategists say.

U.S. officials said the recent military efforts in Somalia have been led by the Pentagon's joint Special Operations Command, which directs the military's most secretive and elite units, including the Army's Delta Force.

The Pentagon established an outpost in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti in 2002 in part to serve as a hub for special operations missions to capture or kill senior al Qaeda leaders in the region.

Few such "high value" targets have materialized, and the Pentagon has gradually moved members of the covert special operations units to more urgent missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But officials in Washington said this week that the joint command had quietly been returning troops and weapons in recent weeks in anticipation of a mission against members of an al Qaeda cell thought to be hiding in Somalia.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of Congress on Friday that a U.S. airstrike by an AC-130 gunship early this week in Somalia was executed under the Pentagon's authority to hunt down and kill terrorism suspects around the world, a power given to it by the White House shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some critics of the Pentagon's aggressive use of special operations troops, including some Democratic members of Congress, have argued that using U.S. forces outside declared combat zones gives the Pentagon too much authority in sovereign nations and blurs the lines between soldiers and spies.

According to a Pentagon consultant with knowledge about special operations, small teams of U.S. advisers crossed into Somalia with the advancing Ethiopian army that helped Somalia's weak transitional government oust a strong Muslim militia that had been in control of Mogadishu, the capital, and most of southern Somalia

"You're not talking lots of guys," the Pentagon consultant said of the U.S. military advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"You're talking onesies and twosies."

On Friday, Ethiopian-backed Somalian forces captured the last remaining stronghold of the Muslim militia, Defense Minister Col. Barre Aden Shire said.

The southern town of Ras Kamboni fell after five days of heavy fighting, Shire said.

He said that government troops backed by Ethiopian forces and MiG fighter jets chased fleeing militants into nearby forests and that the fighting would continue.

He did not give casualty figures.

The report of the town's fall came only hours after Somalia's warlords met with President Abdullahi Yusuf in Mogadishu and pledged to disarm their militias, a major step toward bringing calm to the city after years of chaos.

However, just outside the site of the talks, a fight over where to park a militia's heavily armed pickup left at least six people dead and 10 wounded.

Clan gunmen fired a rocket-propelled grenade and briefly exchanged gunfire with government troops, who had wanted the gunmen to park farther from the presidential palace.

Additional material from The Associated Press.


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