In early June, the United States intervened militarily in Somalia for the third time this year, striking a group of alleged terrorists with cruise missiles. The men targeted had come ashore in northern Somalia two days earlier and were hiding in nearby mountains. Episodes such as this one may soon become more frequent, as recent reports point to an increased US military presence in Somalia.

The confrontation occurred outside of a small village in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia that has escaped much of the violence there. A group of more than a dozen men came ashore Wednesday night and opened fire on local policemen. Having wounded four, they headed into nearby mountains for cover. The Puntland government then requested assistance from the US military base in Djibouti. A local source reports seeing two American soldiers come to the village on Thursday, apparently investigating the coastline and verifying the earlier report.

US forces took action Friday night, June 1. Although the exact details of the strike remain hazy, it appears that a US Navy ship off the coast fired multiple cruise missiles at those in the mountains, perhaps with targeting assistance from a low-flying plane. These forces came from the US CTF-150 task force, which regularly patrols the Somali coast.

Since the men hid in a remote area, no civilian casualties occurred, although at least six of those hiding were killed. Puntland soldiers, assisted by US military officers, managed to recover the passports of the deceased either from their bodies or captured equipment. According to the Puntland government, at least six of the men were non-Somalis (from the United States, Great Britain, Sweden, Morocco, Pakistan, Yemen), and other sources have asserted that at least one was Eritrean. However, the exact identities of the men remain unknown. It is probable that they belonged to the Islamic Courts Union and were fleeing the Ethiopian army, perhaps into Eritrea.

The US military still refuses to give any details on the attacks, citing security concerns. There had been suspicions that some of the men targeted had a connection to al-Qaeda’s 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, but a US official has stated that none of those killed were linked to the bombing. The strike marks the third exercise of US force on Somali soil this year; the previous two both resulted in civilian deaths.

This appears to be part of a more general trend towards active US military presence in Somalia: a number of recent reports, including one from the Puntland Security Minister, have stated that US planes are doing flyovers in a search for Islamists. The US military has also been collaborating with the loathsome Sudanese government in an attempt to gather intelligence, some of which pertains to Somali Islamists.

-Jeff Weaver