US accused of using Ethiopia to launch air strikes on Somalia
Xan Rice, East Africa correspondent
Saturday February 24, 2007
The US military secretly used landing strips in eastern Ethiopia to launch air strikes on suspected Islamists in Somalia last month, it was reported yesterday.Quoting anonymous army officials, the New York Times also claimed that the US diverted spy satellites to provide intelligence to Ethiopian troops as they swept across the country to drive the Somali Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC) out of the capital, Mogadishu.
If true, the report would confirm rumours of close planning between the two countries before and during the war. Both administrations deny this was the case. The account also raises questions about the relationship between Washington and the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, whose record on human rights has come under severe scrutiny.
Until now, the US has refused to provide specifics on its operations in Somalia, other than to confirm that it launched two strikes aimed at alleged “al-Qaida affiliated” members of the SCIC in the far south of the country.According to the NYT, which said military officials considered the Somalia operations a much-needed counter terrorism success, two AC-130 gunships landed at a small airstrip in eastern Ethiopia on January 6. One of the planes launched a strike on a suspected Islamist convoy the following day. A second strike followed two weeks later. No “high-value targets” – the term US officials use to describe al-Qaida members – were killed in either attack.
Initially it was suspected that the planes had flown from Djibouti, where the US has a large military base. But Djibouti’s president later condemned the US attacks, and denied the planes took off from there.
Bereket Simon, an Ethiopian government spokesman, said the US planes had not used landing strips in Ethiopia. But analysts said the report appeared to back up hitherto unconfirmed accounts.
Richard Cornwell, senior research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, said that a visit by General John Abizaid, then head of the US central command, to Addis Ababa in December, probably paved the way for the operation.