U.S. Navy vessels are deployed off the coast of Somalia to make sure al-Qaida or allied jihadists don’t escape the country by sea now that the once-dominant Islamist forces there are in retreat, the State Department said Wednesday.
Of particular concern is the fate of three al-Qaida militants who were believed by U.S. officials to be under the protection of the Islamic Courts Union in Mogadishu until Ethiopian forces drove the Courts from power in recent days.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the missions off the coast are being carried out by a U.S. task force based in the Horn of Africa.
The al-Qaida militants are believed to have had a role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and in the 2002 bombing of a hotel in Kenya.
Kenya sent extra troops to its border with Somalia on Wednesday to keep Islamic militants from entering the country after Ethiopian helicopters attacked a Kenyan border post by mistake while pursuing suspected fighters.
Four Ethiopian helicopters apparently mistook a Kenyan border post at Harehare for the Somali town of Dhobley on Tuesday and fired rockets at several small buildings, a security officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. There were no reports of casualties, but Kenyan tanks were sent to the area early Wednesday, the officer added.
McCormack said the administration is planning to provide food to Somalia, adding that U.S. officials will take part in a donors conference soon to determine further needs and how they can be met.
Also planned is a meeting of U.S., European and African countries, along with international institutions on Friday in Kenya for a discussion of humanitarian and security issues.
McCormack said the United States continues to support the creation of an all-Africa force to help out the transitional government as it seeks to consolidate its authority in Mogadishu. Until the Islamic Courts were forced out, the government had been confined to the western town of Baidoa, unable to assert its authority nationwide despite U.N. and United States backing.
U.S. efforts part of global initiative
The U.S. efforts on the humanitarian and peacekeeping fronts are part of an overall international initiative “to move Somalia out of the category of a failed state,” McCormack said.
The spokesman stopped short of an outright endorsement of an Ethiopian attack last week but said it was apparent that the Islamic Courts had fallen under the control “of those that had links to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.”
These groups, he said, “quite clearly were interested in imposing draconian types of interpretations” of Islamic law on Somalia in contravention of the polices of the transitional government.
Before Ethiopian troops launched their offensive last week, “we certainly would have hoped that there could have been a negotiated, political dialogue,” McCormack said.
“But it became apparent over time, and certainly very apparent in the recent weeks, that that wasn’t going to happen and that the Islamic Courts were intent upon trying to seize control over all of Somalia through use of arms,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni flew to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to meet with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to discuss the framework of a regional peacekeeping mission to Somalia, said Okello Oryem, the Ugandan minister of state of foreign affairs.
Somalia’s government forces, backed by Ethiopian troops, have been pursuing the remnants of the Islamic militia that until two weeks ago controlled most of southern Somalia.