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Coalition Navy Watches for Terrorists Fleeing Somalia


A U.S. Navy spokesman says, five to 10 coalition ships are patrolling off the coast of Somalia to prevent suspected terrorists from escaping by sea, following the military defeat of Islamists who took control of much of the country earlier this year. The spokesman says the ships have so far not intercepted any suspects. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

A statement by the U.S. Navy regional command in Bahrain says sailors on coalition ships have been boarding suspect vessels off the Somali coast to ensure there are no wanted terrorists on board.

A spokesman, Commander Kevin Aandahl, says some of the ships that normally patrol the Red Sea and waters off the southeast coast of the Saudi Peninsula have been concentrated along Somalia's 2,700-kilometer coastline.

"What we are doing is prudently positioning our ships in the area to deny the sea as an escape route to al-Qaida terrorists, or those affiliated with al-Qaida," he said.

Commander Aandahl says this operation, involving two U.S. ships and several more from other coalition members, is not very different from the usual coalition patrols in the region, aimed at denying terrorists the use of the sea and preventing piracy.

"We have the capability, obviously, to patrol the coastline." he said. "We have a very robust radar package that we use to view not only what is in the air, but what is on the surface."

"And, when the occasion arises where something is suspicious, then we will conduct a boarding, just to make sure everything is on the up and up [correct]," he continued.

Commander Aandahl says the naval task force has so far not found any suspected terrorists trying to flee Somalia.

Bush administration officials have accused the former Islamist leaders in Somalia of harboring al-Qaida terrorists, including some blamed for the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and attacks on Israeli targets in Kenya in 2002.

Officials said Wednesday that the naval operation, and a regional diplomatic effort, are aimed at making sure those alleged terrorists do not escape, now that Ethiopian and Somali government forces have driven Somalia's Islamic Courts movement from the capital.

U.S. and coalition naval forces patrol all the waters around the Saudi peninsula and in the northern Indian Ocean. The task force assigned to Somalia's coastal waters is commanded by a British officer, who is responsible for patrols from the Red Sea around to the Gulf of Oman. Other coalition task forces patrol in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Iran and in support of ground forces in Iraq.

News reports quote U.S. officials as saying a second U.S. aircraft carrier group will soon be added to the Gulf force, but spokesmen say they cannot comment on troop movement plans.

The increased naval presence off the coast of Africa comes as the U.S. government is moving to create a new military command focused exclusively on the continent. Currently, three major U.S. commands have responsibility for various parts of Africa.

But the top officer in the U.S. Navy, Admiral Mike Mullen, said last week that President Bush has approved plans to consolidate that responsibility under a new Africa Command.

Officials and analysts say the new command will focus more attention and resources on efforts to improve the capabilities of local African militaries, and will also enhance U.S. efforts to prevent terrorists from operating on the continent.

President Bush is expected to announce the creation of Africa Command before the end of the month.

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