U.S launches new air strike in Somalia

By Sahal Abdulle
Wednesday, January 10, 2007; 4:37 AM

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - U.S. forces hunting al Qaeda suspects launched a new air strike on southern Somalia on Wednesday, a Somali government source said, as international criticism mounted over Washington's military intervention.

"As we speak now, the area is being bombarded by the American air force," the source told Reuters.

The attack hit an area close to Ras Kamboni, a coastal village near the Kenyan border where many fugitive Islamists were believed holed up after being ousted by Ethiopian troops defending Somalia's interim government, he said.

Pentagon officials confirmed one air attack on Monday, as part of a wider offensive involving Ethiopian planes aimed at an al Qaeda cell said by Washington to include suspects in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in east Africa and a hotel in Kenya.

Somali officials said many died in that attack -- the first overt U.S. military action in Somalia since a disastrous humanitarian mission ended in 1994.

A Somali clan elder reported a second U.S. air strike on Tuesday, but that was not confirmed by other sources.

The U.S. actions were defended by Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf, but criticised by others including new U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, the European Union, and former colonial power Italy.

"The secretary-general is concerned about the new dimension this kind of action could introduce to the conflict and the possible escalation of hostilities that may result," chief U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said Rome opposed "unilateral initiatives that could spark new tensions in an area that is already very destabilized."

Monday's attack on a southern village by an AC-130 plane firing automatic cannon was believed to have killed one of three al Qaeda suspects wanted for the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, a U.S. intelligence official said.

Washington is seeking a handful of al Qaeda members including Abu Talha al-Sudani, named in grand jury testimony against Osama bin Laden as a Sudanese explosives expert.

"Before this, it was just tacit support for Ethiopia. Now the U.S. has fingerprints on the intervention and is going to be held more accountable," said Ken Menkhaus, a U.S. Horn of Africa specialist. "This has the potential for a backlash both in Somalia and the region."

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