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Anti-Terrorism Task Force in Horn of Africa Fails to Reach Goal - 2003-05-06

In six months of operations, the U.S. military's special anti-terrorism task force in the Horn of Africa has failed to apprehend a single terrorist suspect.

When the Horn of Africa task force began its operations late last year, defense officials said its mission was to "detect, disrupt and defeat terrorists" in the region.

They said the 900 American military personnel deployed in Djibouti, including some elite Special Operations commando forces, plus 400 more headquarters staff aboard the command ship U.S.S. Mount Whitney would be able to attack, destroy and capture terrorists.

A spokesman for the task force told VOA that capability is still there.

But he now acknowledges U.S. personnel assigned to the operation have thus far not played a role in the arrests of any terrorist suspects.

Instead, the spokesman says the task force's focus "rests more in facilitating the actions of host nation forces via an information-sharing network that puts the right information, in the right hands, at the right time so those forces can take action within their own borders."

The spokesman says this coalition effort in the Horn of Africa has resulted in the apprehension of what he describes as "several suspects."

While he gives few details, the spokesman indicates these suspects were seized in operations carried out by Kenyan forces in Somalia and by Yemeni forces in Yemen.

Military sources indicate the total number of suspects detained in those operations was just 12 men, including only one suspected al-Qaida operative and one man believed to have ties to the terrorist group.

The alleged al-Qaida operative is identified as Suleiman Abdalla, who is suspected of involvement in the 1998 bomb attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Military sources say he was detained in Somalia earlier this year, taken to Kenya and subsequently transported to the United States for interrogation and prosecution.

The Horn of Africa task force spokesman will not discuss Abdalla's fate. And the Justice Department has not responded to inquiries about the man, who is believed to be a Yemeni national in his early 30s.