The commanding general of the U.S.-led counterterrorism task force in the Horn of Africa says reports of U.S. Marines landing on Somali shores earlier this week to hunt for terror suspects are a fabrication. The general says he believes the reports had confused a military training exercise, which took place off the coast of neighboring Djibouti late last month.
On Thursday, media reports began circulating about an incident that allegedly occurred two days earlier along the coast of Somaliland, a breakaway region in northern Somalia.
The reports said that two boats brought ashore about 20 U.S. Marines, who visited a fishing village near the port of Las Qorei. Reuters news agency quoted a local Somali official as saying that the Marines showed residents there, photographs of suspected terrorists, before leaving the area a few hours later.
The news agency also said that three American warships, including a helicopter carrier, were seen at the port on the same day. Reuters called the incident "one of the most visible hunts for militants" in Somalia since the Djibouti-based Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa was formed three years ago.
Officials at the Pentagon denied that Marines had landed in Somalia. On Friday, the commanding general of the task force, U.S. Marine Major General Samuel Helland, speculated that Somali locals may have confused the date and location of a military activity that did take place near Somaliland late last month.
"An exercise was conducted in Djibouti in the last week of April by the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and at that time, elements of the 26th MEU came ashore and conducted live-fire exercises in the ranges of Djibouti and did an exercise in amphibious assault across the beaches as well," Major General Helland said. "The story appears to cover what the exercise was and that's all it was. To my knowledge, there has been no Marine activity off the coast of Somalia other than the Fifth Fleet sailing by on their way to Iraq."
The aim of the U.S.-led multinational task force is to detect and disrupt potential terrorist operations in the Horn and East Africa through training of national security forces, sea and land surveillance, and maritime patrols.
Washington believes terrorist organizations and their operatives are trying to take advantage of the region's porous borders and weak institutions to establish bases from which they can plan and launch attacks.
A top al-Qaida terror suspect is believed to be somewhere in the Horn of Africa. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who is said to have planned the deadly bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, was last spotted about a year and a half ago in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.