MOGADISHU (AFP) — The US military fired at least one cruise missile into southern Somalia near the Kenyan border, targeting an Al-Qaeda leader believed to be hiding there, a US military official said Monday.
"On March 2, the US conducted an attack against a known Al-Qaeda terrorist in southern Somalia," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in Washington.
Whitman would provide no details on the type of attack, the identity of the target, or the outcome.
But another military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said at least one cruise missile, and possibly more, was launched at the target in southern Somalia.
"They're still trying to assess the damage, the effectiveness," the official said, but did not elaborate on how the assessment was being carried out.
US warships and submarines are armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, but the official would not say whether the strike was launched from a US warship and would not give the identity of the Al-Qaeda leader targeted in the strike.
A spokesman for the Islamist movement that is leading an insurgency against the Somali government said an Islamist-held town was bombed, and civilian targets were hit, in an attack carried out by a US AC-130 gunship.
The US military official said he knew nothing of any AC-130 gunships -- a modified military cargo plane equipped with night-vision gear and powerful canons -- being used in what was essentially a missile attack.
A town elder told AFP that the raid, which he said occurred early Monday, appeared to have focused on three targets in the town. A local elder, Abdullahi Sheikh Duale, said four civilians were killed.
The township is home to thousands of refugees who fled clashes in Mogadishu.
It was unclear whether the United States coordinated the attack with the Somali government or other governments in the region. Somali officials refused to comment.
"As we have repeatedly said, we will continue to pursue terrorist activities and their operations wherever we may find them," Whitman said.
"We do work very closely with our partners in the region in the conduct of our military operations," he said, reading from a prepared statement.
"We will continue to seek out identify, capture and if necessary kill terrorists where they plan their activities, carry out their operations, or seek safe harbor," he said.
The attack is at least the third the US military has conducted inside Somalia since the start of 2007.
Before that it gave Ethiopian army tacit support to evict the Islamist militia which has taken control of much of southern and central Somalia.
In June last year, a US Navy destroyer shelled suspected Al-Qaeda targets in mountainous and remote areas in northeastern Somalia where local Islamist militants are also believed to have bases.
Earlier last year a US gunship bombed insurgent positions in southern Somalia, coming to the aid of the Somali government forces which had ousted the Islamists from most of the country's southern and central regions.
US officials said the previous attacks were aimed at "high-value" Al-Qaeda militants -- among them the Comoros islander Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Kenyan Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, blamed for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people.
Since the Islamists were ousted from power in early 2007, they have been carrying out attacks against government officials, the Ethiopian forces that are backing the Somali government and African Union peacekeepers.
Also on Monday, Islamist fighters killed five people when they briefly took control of the southern town of Burhakaba township, southwest of the capital, from Ethiopia-backed Somali security forces.
Despite numerous peacemaking and nation-building manouvers, Somalia has never really recovered since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre plunged the Horn of Africa nation into widespread clan fighting.
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