September 27, 2010

US, al-Shabab Enter Propaganda Battle

This Associated Press report indicates a slow information flow. Two NATO helicopters have just raided Pakistan’s border, yet US Special Forces denied responsibility for an unclaimed helicopter attack on Somalia’s coast. Denial often means a confession in the political world - as if Special Forces would own up to their operations.

Any big announcement will come from Washington. If it comes:

U.S. military officials and the European Union Naval Force denied on Monday that one of their helicopters was involved in an exchange of fire reported by residents of a coastal town in Somalia.

Residents of the coastal town of Merca, about 50 miles (70 kilometers) southwest of Mogadishu, said a military helicopter flew over the town on Sunday and that militants fired on it. Some residents said the helicopter fired back but caused no major damage.

But no one seems to know who the helicopter belongs to.

The U.S. military's Special Operations Command Africa and its conventional counterpart, U.S. Africa Command, said they had no involvement, as did a spokesman for the EU Naval Force, an anti-piracy unit that has military forces off the east coast of Somalia.

"I can tell you we don't have any troops in that vicinity at all. We are surprised as you to be honest," said Maj. Bryan Purtell, the spokesman for the Germany-based Special Operations Command Africa.

The EU NavFor spokesman, Lt. Col. Per Klingvall, said: "We're not operating on the Somali coast. We're just operating out on the waters."

Merca resident Dahi Aden said that a military helicopter flew over the coastal town and that militants from al-Shabab — the country's most powerful insurgent group — fired on the aircraft. Aden said it did not respond.

However, a second resident, Abdullahi Qalirow, said the helicopter fired back.

"Once the insurgents fired at the helicopters, they immediately responded with machine gun fire," said Qalirow, who said their were at least two helicopters, though others reported only one. "After the incident, al-Shabab militants sealed off the entire area and prevented civilians from moving around, creating a rumor that something hit there."

Somali Minister of Information Abdirahman Omar Osman declined to immediately comment.

Last September U.S. commandos on helicopters strafed a convoy carrying top al-Qaida fugitive Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in rural southern Somalia, rappelled to the ground, collected his body and another corpse and took off. Nabhan was wanted for the 2002 car bombing of a beach resort in Kenya and an attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner.

Somalia hasn't had a fully functioning government in almost 20 years. Al-Shabab — a militant group with ties to al-Qaida — has grown in power in recent years and now controls much of the southern part of the country, where Merca is located.
For its part al-Shabab claims to have driven off the helicopter and that no senior officials were killed. We may not hear much more from Western officials if this is true.

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