By Mohamed Olad Hassan
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
MOGADISHU, Somalia, Sept. 14 -- Foreign troops in helicopters strafed a car Monday in a Somali town controlled by Islamist insurgents, killing two men and capturing two others who were wounded, witnesses said. U.S. military officials said American forces were involved in the raid.
The commando-style action took place in a village near Baraawe amid growing fears that al-Qaeda is gaining a foothold in this lawless nation.
Two U.S. military officials said forces from the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command were involved. The officials gave no details about the raid or its target, and they spoke on the condition of anonymity because the operation was secret.
Many experts fear that Somalia is becoming a haven for al-Qaeda, a place for terrorists to train and gather strength -- much like Afghanistan in the 1990s. The U.N.-backed government, with support from African Union peacekeepers, holds only a few blocks of Mogadishu, the war-ravaged capital.
Last year, U.S. missiles killed reputed al-Qaeda commander Aden Hashi Ayro -- the first major success after a string of U.S. military attacks in 2008.
Like much of Somalia, Baraawe and its surrounding villages are controlled by the militant group al-Shabab, which the United States accuses of having ties to al-Qaeda. Al-Shabab, which has foreign fighters in its ranks, seeks to overthrow the government and impose a strict form of Islam in Somalia.
A witness to Monday's attack, Abdi Ahmed, said six helicopters buzzed the village before two of the aircraft opened fire. After the helicopters fired, soldiers in military fatigues got out and left with the two wounded men.
"There was only a burning vehicle and two dead bodies lying beside it," said Mohamed Ali Aden, a bus driver who drove past the wreckage minutes after the attack, about 155 miles south of Mogadishu.
Somalia's weak government has very few resources and does not have helicopters or other modern equipment.
Another witness, Dahir Ahmed, said the helicopters took off from a warship flying a French flag, but that could not be confirmed, and French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck denied that the attack was a French operation.
"They are not French helicopters," he said. France previously has launched commando raids to rescue French nationals.
The U.S. government -- haunted by the deadly 1993 U.S. military assault in Mogadishu that is chronicled in the 1999 book "Black Hawk Down," which was made into a 2001 film -- is trying to neutralize the growing terrorist threat without sending in troops.
Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other. A moderate Islamist was elected president in January in hopes that he could unite the country's feuding factions, but the violence has continued unabated.
There are near-daily battles in Mogadishu between government and insurgent forces. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed.
Somalia's lawlessness also has allowed piracy to flourish off its coast, making the Gulf of Aden one of the most dangerous waterways in the world.