Although we may have been distracted by the war in Iraq, it looks like the United States is still making targeting al Qaeda a priority in the international war on terror.
Sometime Sunday an AC-130 gunship flying out of a US base in Djibouti launched an attack on suspected Al Qaeda targets in southern Somalia. Reports are that the targets were Abu Talha al-Sudani, the senior Al Qaeda leader in Somalia and an al Qaeda operative wanted in connection with the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, either Fazul Abdullah Mohammed or Saleh Nabhan. Whether the primary targets have been eliminated is not yet known, but sources inside Somalia are reporting as many as 250 casualties from the attack, likely mostly Islamist insurgents.
Pentagon officials report that the al Qaeda targets had been driven out of Mogadishu by Ethiopian supported troops as part of an ongoing operation to bring the war-torn country under control and subdue Islamic militants who have taken over the southern parts of the country.
Three al Qaeda operatives associated with the embassy bombings are believed to have been hiding out in Somalia for years under the protection of the al Qaeda associated militia known as the Islamic Courts Union. Al Qaeda has been very active in southern Somalia in the last six months in response to a recent call to arms from al Qaeda's second in command Aymin al Zawahiri against Ethiopian 'crusaders' attempting to bring order to the country. Al Qaeda activities in Somalia include logistical support for Somali militias, and setting up training camps and recruiting Somali muslims to participate in al Qaeda operations around the world.
As Ethiopian military units move into Somalia, US or international forces may follow to provide support and bring Somalia under control. US naval units, including the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, have moved into the area to prevent the possible escape of al Qaeda agents by sea. This is the first US engagement in Somalia since forces providing humanitarian aid were pulled out by President Clinton in 1994. As pressure on the Somali insurgents increases and more intelligence is gathered, further airstrikes like the one on Monday seem likely.