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US Military Confirms Airstrike in Southern Somalia


The U.S. military has confirmed conducting an airstrike against suspected al-Qaida leaders in southern Somalia, amid reports of a second attack Tuesday.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters Tuesday that an AC-130 gunship attacked what he called the region's principal al-Qaida leaders on Sunday. Media reports said the attack occurred Monday.

Whitman said the attack was based on "credible intelligence" but would not comment on whether it killed the intended targets.

Witnesses report another airstrike, this one by helicopters, near the southern Somali village of Afmadow Tuesday. Somali officials say the U.S. targeted more al-Qaida members. But U.S. officials indicated today's attack was not a U.S. operation.

In Mogadishu Tuesday, assailants attacked Ethiopian and Somali government troops with rocket-propelled grenades. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Islamists have vowed to wage a guerrilla war against the government and its Ethiopian allies who pushed them from Mogadishu and other strongholds in Somalia last month.

The pro-government forces are currently hunting Islamist fighters in southern Somalia near the Kenyan border. U.S. warships are positioned off the coast to prevent al-Qaida or Islamist leaders from escaping by sea.

The Islamists controlled much of southern Somalia for several months last year, and attempted to enforce strict sharia law in the areas they ruled. The movement's leaders have denied any links with al-Qaida.

The United States is specifically hunting several al-Qaida operatives who were allegedly involved in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Tuesday, Somali interim President Abdullahi Yusuf endorsed the U.S. airstrike, saying the U.S. has the right to strike at terrorists involved in the embassy bombings.

The airstrikes are the first acknowledged U.S. military action in Somalia since 1994, when U.S. troops left the country after 18 U.S. soldiers were killed during street fighting in Mogadishu.