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US Confirms Air Strike on al-Qaida Leaders in Somalia

The U.S. Defense Department says its forces conducted an air strike in southern Somalia on Monday, but says that, contrary to some reports from the region, that was the only U.S. air strike there in recent days. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

More than 12 hours after news organizations reported the air strike, and several hours after Somali officials confirmed it, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman officially acknowledged that U.S. combat aircraft had struck a suspected terrorist hideout Monday in southern Somalia. He said the operation involved one or more AC-130s, large propeller planes that, when equipped as gunships, have enormous destructive capability.

News reports indicate that the aircraft flew out of Djibouti, where the United States has a counter-terrorism task force.

Whitman also said the operation was based on intelligence reports that what he called "principal al-Qaida leadership" figures were in the area. "We are going to remain committed to reducing terrorist capabilities when and where we find them. And the operation two days ago was an example of that," he said.

Whitman would not talk about the results of the attack or provide other details. But he said it was the only U.S. "air operation" in the region "to date." Still, a spokesman for the U.S. navy in the region says planes from an aircraft carrier that just arrived have been flying intelligence and reconnaisance missions over Somalia. Some reports from the region have indicated that U.S. helicopters were involved in attacks on Tuesday, but officials will not comment on those reports.

Whitman would not respond directly when asked whether the Somali government was consulted before Monday's operation. But he said "the global war on terror does not respect boundaries."

"We are going to continue to work, like we did in this case, in close cooperation with our allies in the region, all of whom understand the importance of pursuing terrorists and their terrorist activities, and denying them safe havens. And we will continue to do that," he said.

White House spokesman Tony Snow expressed a similar view at his daily briefing. "We have made it clear that this is a global war on terror, and this is a reiteration of the fact. People who think that they are going to establish safe haven for al-Qaida any place need to realize that we are going to fight them," he said.

In Mogadishu, Somalia's interim president endorsed the air strike. Interim President Abdullahi Yusuf told reporters al-Qaida terrorists had been using his country as a safe haven and as a base for their operations for years. Yusuf said the United States had a right to attack the al-Qaida leaders, who he said were involved in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Last week, when Somali and Ethiopian forces pushed Islamist leaders and their militia out of Mogadishu, Kenya sealed its border with Somalia and U.S. and coalition warships took up positions along the Somali coast in an effort to prevent the Islamists from leaving the country. The United States launched its air strike Monday with the fugitives apparently cornered in southern Somalia, and, according to officials, intelligence that indicated exactly where they were.