A U.S. military official has confirmed to VOA that U.S. military forces made a second air strike on al-Qaida targets in Somalia this week. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity, says a large C-130 gunship carried out the attack, the same type of aircraft that made a similar attack two weeks ago. The U.S. military official could not say exactly where the attack was made, or which day, or whether the intended targets were hit.
Sources in Mogadishu told a VOA reporter that no reports of a new air strike had reached the city, as they normally would, even from remote areas.
At his daily briefing, Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman, who had confirmed the previous attack, would not confirm the new attack on the record.
"The very nature of some of our operations are not conducive to public discussion," he said. "And there will be times when there are activities and operations that I can talk to you about, and there will be other times when I just won't have anything for you. And I don't have anything for you on Somalia."
After the previous attack, Whitman said the target had been al-Qaida terrorist leaders, although he could not say whether the targets were hit. This time, he would only discuss the military's operations against al-Qaida in East Africa in general terms.
"We have for some time been concerned about al-Qaida operating in that region, and that's why we're working with countries throughout that AOR [Area of Responsibility] to identify, track, seek, capture and, if necessary, kill al-Qaida [operatives] working, taking safe haven, operating in that region," he said.
In addition to the two air strikes, the U.S. Navy has added extra ships to its patrols in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, off the coast of Somalia. Officials say the goal is to prevent al-Qaida operatives and sympathizers who were working with Somaila's former rulers in the Islamic Courts Union from escaping the area by sea. Kenya has closed its land border at the southern end of Somalia. And as a result, reports from the region say, some former government officials and their supporters have been cornered in southeastern Somalia, where the air strikes are believed to have taken place.
One prominent member of the U.S. Congress has criticized the U.S. military moves. The new chairman of the House of Representatives Africa Subcommittee, Democrat Donald Payne, told VOA Wednesday he believes U.S. policy in the region is based on wrong information.
"Most of those Islamic Courts Union leaders were moderates, in my opinion," he said. "And I don't feel comfortable that the information that this was al-Qaida-inspired is actually true. I'm sure there are some al-Qaida operatives in the country because they're everywhere, but I don't think that the prime movers of the Islamic Courts Union was to be beholden to al-Qaida."
Congressman Payne called for negotiations between Somalia's new transitional government and its former rulers. Otherwise, he said, the African Union or some other organization will need to provide peacekeeping troops for Somalia for a long time.