Somalia Raids Were Long in the Making
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The Pentagon is providing little information about U.S. air operations in Somalia. A spokesman has only confirmed a single air strike that targeted what was described as principal al-Qaida leadership in the east African country. But reports from Somalia say air strikes are continuing.
NPR's senior news analyst Ted Koppell joins us now. He's been talking with a senior U.S. military official with firsthand knowledge of operations in Somalia. Good morning.
TED KOPPELL: Good morning, Renee. How are you?
MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you. And what can you tell us about the military involvement in Somalia?
KOPPELL: First of all, let me tell you about what's going on, because it's not just happening on - or in the air or from the air. U.S. military forces have, of course, been down on the ground for a long time. There are about 1,400 special operations forces and Marines who've been operating out of Djibouti who have been in Ethiopia, training Ethiopian troops, and who have been on the ground, actually, in Somalia gathering intelligence.
So whereas we may have had the impression that this was sort of a quick and dirty operation, this is something that has been in the planning stages for a long time, just waiting for the appropriate moment where the targets could be hit.
MONTAGNE: And do we know who exactly is being targeted?
KOPPELL: Well, they know that there are senior members of what they call the Council of Islamic Courts. That was the Islamic group that briefly took over control of Somalia, but is now on the run again. And several members of that council are believed to have very close ties with Osama bin Laden's organization, al-Qaida.
And they believe that two or three of the members of that council were directly involved in the bombing of U.S. embassies in east Africa about eight years ago.
MONTAGNE: Now the Ethiopian army has been largely instrumental in driving the Islamists from power in Mogadishu and keeping them on the run. What is the U.S.'s position on Ethiopia's involvement in Somalia?
KOPPELL: Very much a partner. The United States, as I say, has had troops in Ethiopia, has been training those troops on the group and has been waiting for an appropriate opportunity. As that official you mentioned, the military official told me yesterday they use whatever tools they feel are most appropriate.
The point he made was that if you're operating in London, for example, you work with the cooperation and collaboration of Scotland Yard. If you're operating in Somalia, you work with the collaboration of the Ethiopian army. So this is very much a joint operation.
But by the same token, this official was careful to point out that we should not look upon this as being the opening of a new front. They want to get in, they want to get out.
MONTAGNE: Although there has been concern this past week or so expressed about a wider conflict in that area - the horn of Africa, which juts out towards the Middle East.
KOPPELL: Well, it's a reasonable concern to have, because, obviously, having achieved what has been achieved over the past few weeks - largely by the Ethiopian troops, of driving the Council of Islamic Courts out of power - the question is who's going to keep them out of power?
The Ethiopians are talking about withdrawing their forces, although I wouldn't take that too, too seriously. The Americans are saying they're hoping that the organization of African Union will be able to come in and do something, or that even the previous government may be able to resume control. That, I fear, may be whistling in the dark.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.
KOPPELL: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppell.
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