Kenyan Army soldiers stand guard close to the border with Somalia on Jan. 7. The Kenyans guarded the border to ensure that Islamists under fire in Somalia could not cross into Kenya.
Kenyan Army soldiers stand guard close to the border with Somalia on Jan. 7. The Kenyans guarded the border to ensure that Islamists under fire in Somalia could not cross into Kenya. AFP/Getty Images
Airstrikes against suspected al-Qaida targets in Somalia are the first United States military attacks in the country since a failed humanitarian mission ended in the mid-1990s. The relationship between East Africa and U.S. security has been an open question since then.
In late Jan. 1991, Somali warlords toppled the government of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. The collapse of the government, and resulting clan-based violence, led to a famine that drew international attention.
In December 1992 — the waning days of his administration — President George H.W. Bush responded by joining with the U.N. to lead a humanitarian mission to Somalia. The effort was spearheaded by American troops.
By the Fall of 1993, the humanitarian mission was entangled in the competition between Somali clans for power and resources. International efforts to bring order to the unruly country proved unsuccessful.
On Oct. 3-4, 1993, the Blackhawk Down incident took place, during a raid against the forces of warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed. The warlord's forces shot down two U.S. helicopters and killed 18 U.S. servicemen. An undetermined number of Somalis, thought to be in the hundreds, were killed in the fighting. The incident permanently turned American opinion against the intervention in Somalia.
In 1994 the U.S. began pulling out of Somalia, leaving a failed state with no central government. In the years after the pullout, the U.S. continued to watch Somalia for its potential to harbor terrorists.
On Aug. 7, 1998, the peace in neighboring Kenya, and Tanzania to the south, was shattered when simultaneous bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam killed more than 200 people, most of them locals. The bombings were linked to al-Qaida.
Among those believed by the U.S. government to be responsible for the embassy bombings was Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a native of the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros who had moved to Kenya in the mid-1990s and married a local woman.
By Nov. 28, 2002, Fazul was believed to have been involved in two more operations in Kenya: a car bombing at a resort on the coast that killed 10 Kenyans and three Israelis and, at the same time, a failed attempt to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet.
After the attacks, Fazul took shelter in Somalia, which still lacked any government.
In 2004, with the help of the U.N., Somalia formed a transitional government. But the government failed to gain traction and was eventually overshadowed on the ground by a coalition of Islamist forces operating under the banner of the Islamic Courts Union.
On Dec. 24, 2006, Ethiopia bombed targets in Somalia in support of the transitional Somali government. Backed by foreign troops, the government of President Abdullahi Yusuf swept into Mogadishu on Dec. 29, scattering the Islamic forces across the country.
On Jan. 7, 2007, the U.S. apparently took advantage of disarray among the Islamic forces in Somalia to attack suspected al-Qaida leaders. The target, or targets, near the Kenyan border were thought to include Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, and two others involved in the 1998 embassy bombings.
From NPR and Associated Press reports.