by Wim Jansen* Listen here to the Radio Netherlands report
The US military is bombarding positions in Southern Somalia for the second day running in an attack aimed at suspected members of al-Qaeda. The US accuses the Islamic militants of involvement in the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
For the past few weeks the Ethiopian army has succeeded in driving Islamic militias from their strongholds in whole swathes of Somalia. The US TV station CNN announced the initial bombardments on Monday night.
"A US special operations aircraft conducted an airstrike against targets in Southern Somalia based on intelligence that al-Qaeda operatives were hiding at a location there. These were suspected terrorists who had apparently fled from Mogadishu..."
On Monday, an AC 130 fighter plane, which took off from Djibouti, carried out the bombardment on the village of Badel in the south east of the country. According to correspondent Koert Lindijer, the Americans were assisted by Kenya and Ethiopia:
"The Kenyans closed the border so that the Islamists couldn't flee. The Ethiopians hunted down the Islamists. The Americans gave military information from their satellites to the Ethiopians and carried out a bombardment. According to reports, hundreds were killed in that."Attacks
The US says the village offers shelter to three al-Qaeda operatives who they say are responsible for the attacks on US embassies at the end of the 1990s and a hotel on the Kenyan coast in 2002. Since that bombing, the Americans have permanently had a presence in Djibouti to back up the war on terrorism.
Because of the physical lack of a central government in Somalia, the US believes the country has become a useful hiding place for terrorists. The attempt to drive-out the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia was reason enough for the mainly Christian country of Ethiopia to send thousands of troops with support from the United States.
Up to now, though, the US has only played a background role. But America has now clearly chosen to step into the foreground, according to Horn of Africa analyst Stephen Ellis:
"They want to make absolutely sure that people they think are members of al-Qaeda are indeed eliminated and probably they want to show their own hand in this."
"Because until now all the hard work has been officially done by the transitional government of Somalia with Ethiopian troops, but one has the impression that the real fighting has been done by Ethiopian forces."
The call by al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zwihiri, to attack Ethiopian troops, has worked as a catalyst for the US move. This act shows once again that an international fight against terrorism is taking place on Somali soil too.
Furthermore, the role of 'prestige and honour' has played a part in this initiative, believes Stephen Ellis. Pictures of dead US soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu after a calamitous US intervention in Somalia, still plays on the minds of almost all Americans:
"It was a humiliation for the US. Armed forces pay great attention to questions of honour and prestige. I am sure part of it is saying: this is revenge for what happened at that stage." It's not clear whether the United States have achieved their goal with the bombardment. It is still not known if the hunted al-Qaeda operatives were also actually hit. If it appears that mainly civilians were the victims of the bomb attacks - that could be very bad publicity for the US.
*Translated and Edited by RNW Internet Desk (cc) Radio Netherlands