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U.S. Targets al-Qaeda in Somalia
Strike May Have Hit Senior Member

Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 9, 2007 12:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Karen DeYoung was online Tuesday, Jan. 9 at noon ET to discuss her story today on a U.S. strike in Somalia that may have hit a senior al Qaeda member.

U.S. Strike in Somalia Targets Al-Qaeda Figure, ( Post, Jan. 9)

A transcript follows.

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Herndon, Va.: News reports have alluded to US personnel working 'very, very closely' with Kenyan, Ethiopian and/or Somali forces near the site of this airstrike. Can you clarify what this means? Do we have any special forces on the ground inside Somalia?

Karen DeYoung: Ever since Islamic Courts took over in Mogadishu, U.S. intelligence--both military and CIA--has been carefully watching the situation. Following the Ethiopian invasion, they've been looking for opportunities amid the chaos of those fleeing the capital to pinpoint the location of the handful of people they're looking for--using assets both on the ground and in the air. In that effort, they consider both the Kenyan and Ethiopian military as allies. I don't know with certainty that we have special forces on the ground inside Somalia, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me to know that we have people on both sides of the border gathering intelligence.

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Reston, Va.: I have a $20.07 restaurant week bet that somehow the President will manage to work Somalia, Iraq, and al-Qaeda into a single sentence tomorrow night. What are my chances of scoring a decent lunch?

Karen DeYoung: I would think you're pretty safe betting on a mention of Somalia/al-Qaeda being included as a presidential example of a continuing threat that is wide and urgent.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I'm really not one to cry "bias" at the post nearly as much as many others do - but I must ask about the last paragraph in your article. Granted, much information yet unknown, but what is know seems to indicate a successful mission thus far - What is the relevance of a paragraph reminding readers of a previously failed operation? Why not a paragraph citing a previously successful operation? I just seemed to me to be somewhat misleading, considering what fact are known thus far.

Karen DeYoung: the relevance, I think, is to provide some context on this particular method of attack. we are always cramped for space in print--a fairly lengthy exposition of when it has been used before, including the 2002 attack that reportedly hit targeted bad guys in Yemen, ended up as one example. But it's also, I think, wise to reserve judgment on what, exactly, was hit until we know for sure.

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Herndon, Va.: How can you best characterize the sources of the intelligence that inspired this attack? Are we simply acting on Ethiopian and/or Kenyan intelligence, or did we (or our own, unilateral agents by proxy) identify the suspected al-Qaeda targets?

Generally, what have been our sources of intelligence on the purported presence of al Qaeda militants amongst the SICC's leadership?

Karen DeYoung: See answer above on intel related to Sunday strike. In general, these are people who have been tracked since the early 1990s, through the embassy bombings and 9/11. I'm sure the methods are the usual ones--intercepts, informants, and the occasional undercover American or contractor.

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Washington, D.C.: Any word on possible follow-up strikes, or was this an isolated incident?

Karen DeYoung: If what they see as another target of opportunity presents itself, I'm sure they'll do it again.

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Washington, D.C.: Karen,

I have two sets of questions. One addresses the Presidential authority in ordering the strikes, the other the practical effects of the intervention in Somalia. Does the President have the authority to order this military action? Do you think Congress will accept that authority was implicitly granted in the original war resolution, or will a confluence of political objectives ("democracy" and secularism) nullify any Congressional action to question the President's authority? Finally, what are the conditions in Mogadishu and the southern part of the country? Have the citizens of Somalia been well-served by this intervention of Ethiopia and the U.S., or do we have reasonable grounds to suppose that the pursuit of ideological ends ("freedom" over security) will result in another tragic political failure?

Karen DeYoung: Presidents have claimed this authority long before the current one (e.g. Clinton strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan)without serious challenge. The only time criticism erupts, at least from Congress, is when they hit the wrong target and/or civilians get killed. But even then, the criticism is of the intelligence and targeting, not a challenge to presidential authority to do it in the first place. Mogadishu, after several days of calm following Ethiopian arrival, now seems to be erupting in violence. Wires just reported several RPG strikes.

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Silver Spring, Md.: For all the talk of the current administration that Iraq and the "war on terror" is not another Vietnam, I just can't believe it. Topography is different but we are fighting an insurgent/guerilla war. We have just gone into Somalia. Although not geographically next to Iraq, can anyone say Cambodia or Laos? Now the administration is promoting a troop surge (escalation). Can anyone say Lyndon Johnson? It seems we are doomed to repeat history while saying we learn from it. Apparently not.

Karen DeYoung: Valid points for discussion. But I think the military, at least, is loath to get involved on the ground in Somalia and the objective at the moment is targeted strikes at suspected al-Qaeda when and if the opportunity presents itself.

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Arlington, Va.: Was this related to the recent clashes between Somali and Ethiopian forces with UIC forces, or was it because of intel on the location of al Qaeda in that area?

Karen DeYoung: definitely the latter. again, no one in the U.S. military wants to get involved on the ground again in Somalia. that is a feeling shared by many other countries, which is why putting a multinational force together has been so difficult.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: If these reports are true that the U.S. has identified and attacked a person/persons involved in the embassy attacks,I for one am very happy to see this. This would be a great response versus our weak retort of launching cruise missiles at a questionable pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan and an empty training camp in Afghanistan (thanks Pakistan for telling UBL the TLAMs were inbound). I can only hope that we are able to get the message to the jihadis that just like their approach to fights us through the generations, we too have a long memory and the ability to carry though.

Karen DeYoung: posting this opinion.

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New York, N.Y.: I am disappointed and surprised to hear no reaction from Congressional Democrats on this dangerous escalation (and that too given the impending Iraq 'surge'). Have you heard from anyone from Congress, either in support or against the Somalia intervention

Karen DeYoung: Sen. Carl Levin, the new Democratic head of the Armed Services Committee, speculated at a meeting with defense writers this morning that some hi-tech intelligence must have been involved in the strike, but seemed not to have a problem with the fact of the attack. I think Congress is completely distracted at the moment with Iraq and the president's upcoming speech and isn't paying attention to much else. at the same time, while any involvement in Somalia's internal battles would likely raise a ruckus, targeted attacks against al-Qaeda suspects have generally been met with approval. unless, of course, it turns out they hit the wrong people.

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New York, N.Y.: I'm no fan of al Qaeda or militant Islamist governments but this air strike smells to high heavens. Don't we already have enough problems? I remember when Bush Sr. decided to go into Somalia in the last weeks of his presidency - it wasn't well considered and put Clinton into a horrible military mess just as his term was beginning. Now we've got Bush Jr. ready to leave us in Iraq, threatening to bomb Iran when he feels like it and starting the Somalia mess all over again. Where will it end?

Karen DeYoung: posting a question to which I have no answer.

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Arlington, Va.: Are there fears within the State Dept. that Somalia, in its somewhat precarious state, could become a haven/stronghold for extremist groups that are being pursued more closely in places like Pakistan?

Karen DeYoung: that is certainly the basis for U.S. policy at the moment, one in which as far as I can tell the state department strongly concurs. which is not to say they agreed with last year's policy of secretly contracting with unsavory Somali warlords to target al-Qaeda suspects there--a policy that contributed to the Islamist takeover in the first place.

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Mogadishu, Somalia: The word here in Mogadishu and Somali Web sites is that the U.S. is not really targeting known al Qaeda figures but rather the Ethiopian forces failed to dislodge the Somali Islamic forces fighting in the area. Sunday and Monday the Ethiopians lost ground and several of their vehicles were left burning near Ras Kamboni. Also, Somalis believed all along the U.S. entered the battle with its air force on the day the Mogadishu Airport was bombed. Eyewitnesses said the Jet fighter came from the direction of the sea.

Karen DeYoung: I've learned great skepticism in reporting on these things, but as far as I can determine at the moment the U.S. military wants nothing less than involvement in Somalia's chaos.

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Toronto: With all due respect to the poster from Silver Springs, there is absolutely no indication whatsoever that the U.S. air strikes have been successful at hitting their intended targets, Al Qaeda members behind the African embassy bombings. The AC-130 gunship is not a weapon of precision, and reports are already coming in about mass casualties of people not associated with Al Qaeda (Reuters: village elder reports 20 killed in field). Indeed the history of these attacks - primarily in Afghanistan, is that invariably the wrong people end up being targeted. My fear is that by the U.S. most likely targeting Islamic Courts followers, instead of Al-Qaeda, that we will only end up fostering more indigenous resistance to the role of the U.S. It seems to me that Prime Minister Gedi is putting himself in a precarious position trying to be the leader of Somalia, yet fully backed by both Ethiopia and the U.S. This is a recipe for continued conflict.

Karen DeYoung: that is certainly a possibility and if true, I'm sure we'll find out. for the moment, however, I'd take increasingly wild reports coming out of Mogadishu with a grain of salt.

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Karen DeYoung: Sorry to cut this short, but have to run on a busy day. Thanks for your good questions and stay tuned, I'm sure we haven't heard the end of this.

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