- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007

2:20 p.m.

The U.S. military attacks against al Qaeda leaders in Somalia were based on credible intelligence, a Pentagon spokesman said today. He would not address whether the operations were continuing.

Bryan Whitman would not confirm any of the details of the strike, which was conducted by at least one AC-130 gunship yesterday in southern Somalia, and he would not say whether the attack killed any specific members of al Qaeda.

The assault was based on intelligence “that led us to believe we had principal al Qaeda leaders in an area where we could identify them and take action against them,” Mr. Whitman said. “We’re going to remain committed to reducing terrorist capabilities where and when we find them.”

White House press secretary Tony Snow said he was not aware of any consultations with Congress before the assault.

The air strike yesterday was in the town of Afmadow, about 220 miles southwest of the capital of Mogadishu, Somali officials said. It was not clear immediately how many people were killed in the attacks, but Somali officials said there were reports that many were killed.

At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack said, “Very clearly, the U.S. government has had concerns that there are terrorists, and al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists, that were in Somalia.” He added that “we have great interest in seeing that those individuals not be able to flee to other locations.”

Mr. Whitman said the U.S. conducts “all operations with the close cooperation of our allies in the region” but would not say if Somali officials gave permission for the raid.

At the outset of a conventional conflict, such as the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon normally would publicly release some details.

The Somalia assault, however, was conducted by U.S. Special Operations Command and has been shrouded in secrecy. The military typically declines to reveal much about such missions by special operations forces, including the AC-130 gunships used in the Somalia attack, and Delta Force counterterrorism ground troops.

If the initial air attack was just one part of a broader, continuing special operation, the military would be even more reluctant to publicly reveal details out of concern for jeopardizing the mission, endangering the lives of U.S. troops and removing any doubt on the part of hostile forces about what they faced.

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