U.S. uses Ethiopian bases for imperialist aggression


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

February 23, 2007

U.S. Used Base in Ethiopia to Hunt Al Qaeda

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 ‹ The American military quietly waged a campaign from 
Ethiopia last month to capture or kill top leaders of Al Qaeda in the Horn of 
Africa, including the use of an airstrip in eastern Ethiopia to mount airstrikes
against Islamic militants in neighboring Somalia, according to American 

The close and largely clandestine relationship with Ethiopia also included 
significant sharing of intelligence on the Islamic militants¹ positions and 
information from American spy satellites with the Ethiopian military. Members of
a secret American Special Operations unit, Task Force 88, were deployed in 
Ethiopia and Kenya, and ventured into Somalia, the officials said.

The counterterrorism effort was described by American officials as a qualified 
success that disrupted terrorist networks in Somalia, led to the death or 
capture of several Islamic militants and involved a collaborative relationship 
with Ethiopia that had been developing for years.

But the tally of the dead and captured does not as yet include some Qaeda 
leaders ‹ including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam ‹ 
whom the United States has hunted for their suspected roles in the attacks on 
American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. With Somalia still in a 
chaotic state, and American and African officials struggling to cobble together 
a peacekeeping force for the war-ravaged country, the long-term effects of 
recent American operations remain unclear.

It has been known for several weeks that American Special Operations troops have
operated inside Somalia and that the United States carried out two strikes on 
Qaeda suspects using AC-130 gunships. But the extent of American cooperation 
with the recent Ethiopian invasion into Somalia and the fact that the Pentagon 
secretly used an airstrip in Ethiopia to carry out attacks have not been 
previously reported. The secret campaign in the Horn of Africa is an example of 
a more aggressive approach the Pentagon has taken in recent years to dispatch 
Special Operations troops globally to hunt high-level terrorism suspects. 
President Bush gave the Pentagon powers after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to 
carry out these missions, which historically had been reserved for intelligence 

When Ethiopian troops first began a large-scale military offensive in Somalia 
late last year, officials in Washington denied that the Bush administration had 
given its tacit approval to the Ethiopian government. In interviews over the 
past several weeks, however, officials from several American agencies with a 
hand in Somalia policy have described a close alliance between Washington and 
the Ethiopian government that was developed with a common purpose: rooting out 
Islamic radicalism inside Somalia.

Indeed, the Pentagon for several years has been training Ethiopian troops for 
counterterrorism operations in camps near the Somalia border, including 
Ethiopian special forces called the Agazi Commandos, which were part of the 
Ethiopian offensive in Somalia.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to discuss details of the American
operation, but some officials agreed to provide specifics because they saw it as
a relative success story. They said that the close relationship had included the
sharing of battlefield intelligence on the Islamists¹ positions ‹ a result of an
Ethiopian request to Gen. John P. Abizaid, then the commander of the United 
States Central Command. John D. Negroponte, the director of national 
intelligence at the time, then authorized spy satellites to be diverted to 
provide information for Ethiopian troops, the officials said.

The deepening American alliance with Ethiopia is the latest twist in the United 
States¹ on-and-off intervention in Somalia, beginning with an effort in 1992 to 
distribute food to starving Somalis and evolving into deadly confrontation in 
1993 between American troops and fighters loyal to a Somali warlord, Mohammed 
Farah Aidid. The latest chapter began last June when the Council of Islamic 
Courts, an armed fundamentalist movement, defeated a coalition of warlords 
backed by the Central Intelligence Agency and took power in Mogadishu, the 
capital. The Islamists were believed to be sheltering Qaeda militants involved 
in the embassy bombings, as well as in a 2002 hotel bombing in Kenya.

After a failed C.I.A. effort to arm and finance Somali warlords, the Bush 
administration decided on a policy to bolster Somalia¹s weak transitional 
government. This decision brought the American policy in line with Ethiopia¹s.

As the Islamists¹ grip on power grew stronger, their militias began to encircle 
Baidoa, where the transitional government was operating in virtual exile. 
Ethiopian officials pledged that if the Islamists attacked Baidoa, they would 
respond with a full-scale assault.

While Washington resisted officially endorsing an Ethiopian invasion, American 
officials from several government agencies said that the Bush administration 
decided last year that an incursion was the best option to dislodge the 
Islamists from power.

When the Ethiopian offensive began on Dec. 24, it soon turned into a rout, 
somewhat to the Americans¹ surprise. Armed with American intelligence, the 
Ethiopians¹ tank columns, artillery batteries and military jets made quick work 
of the poorly trained and ill-equipped Islamist militia.

³The Ethiopians just wiped out entire grid squares; it was a blitzkrieg,² said 
one official in Washington who had helped develop the strategy toward Somalia.

As the Islamists retreated, the Qaeda operatives and their close aides fled 
south toward a swampy region. Using information provided by Ethiopian forces in 
Somalia as well as American intelligence, a task force from the Pentagon¹s Joint
Special Operations Command began planning direct strikes.

On Dec. 31, the largely impotent transitional government of Somalia submitted a 
formal request to the American ambassador in Kenya asking for the United States 
to take action against the militants.

General Abizaid called Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and informed him that 
the Central Command was sending additional Special Operations forces to the 
region. The deployment was carried out under the terms of an earlier, classified
directive that gave the military the authority to kill or capture senior Qaeda 
operatives if it was determined that the failure to act expeditiously meant the 
United States would lose a ³fleeting opportunity² to neutralize the enemy, 
American officials said.

On Jan. 6, two Air Force AC-130 gunships, aircraft with devastating firepower, 
arrived at a small airport in eastern Ethiopia. American Special Operations 
troops operating in Kenya, working with the Kenyan military, also set up 
positions along the southern border to capture militants trying to flee the 

A Navy flotilla began to search for ships that might be carrying fleeing Qaeda 
operatives. Support planes were deployed in Djibouti. F-15Es from Al Udeid air 
base in Qatar also flew missions. Intelligence was shared with Ethiopia and 
Kenya through C.I.A. operatives in each country. American military planners also
worked directly with Ethiopian and Kenyan military officials.

On Jan. 7, one day after the AC-130s arrived in Ethiopia, the airstrike was 
carried our near Ras Kamboni, an isolated fishing village on the Kenyan border.

According to American officials, the primary target of the strike was Aden Hashi
Ayro, a young military commander trained in Afghanistan who was one of the 
senior leaders of the Council of Islamic Courts.

Several hours after the strike, Ethiopian troops and one member of the American 
Special Operations team arrived at the site and confirmed that eight people had 
been killed and three wounded, all of whom were described as being armed. After 
sifting through the debris, they found a bloodied passport and other items that 
led them to believe Mr. Ayro was injured in the strike and probably died. 
Several members of the Special Operations team were also in Somalia at the time 
of the strike, one official said.

The second AC-130 strike, on Jan. 23, had another of the Islamic council¹s 
senior leaders, Sheik Ahmed Madobe, as its target. Mr. Madobe survived and was 
later captured by the Ethiopians, Americans say.

American officials said that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the mastermind of the 1998
embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the alleged ringleader of Al Qaeda¹s 
East African cell, remains at large. Some officials caution that while the 
Ethiopians have said additional ³high-priority targets,² including Abu Talha 
al-Sudani, a leading member of the cell, were killed in their own airstrikes, 
American intelligence officials have yet to confirm this.

In late January, American officials played a role in securing the safe passage 
of Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the second-highest-ranking Islamist leader, from 
southern Somalia to Nairobi, Kenya. The exact role of American involvement is 
still not clear, but some American officials consider him to be a moderate 

Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from Nairobi, Kenya.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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