By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Navy has scaled back its presence off Somalia's coast, withdrawing the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier after a three-week mission there, officials said Wednesday.
The carrier left Tuesday to return to the Persian Gulf region, where it had been supporting NATO-led forces in Afghanistan before going to the African coast, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
Among other tasks, aircraft from the Eisenhower had been making flights daily to provide close air support for Ethiopian and Somali forces that were working with U.S. special operations forces as advisers, one official said. The planes had not been called on to use their weapons, and commanders felt the carrier was needed more in the Gulf region, the official said.
So far, officials have acknowledged two airstrikes over Somalia a couple of weeks apart in January, but have given few details. They are reported to have been conducted by other U.S. forces based in Djibouti, though officials have not confirmed that.
At least two U.S. ships remain off Somalia's coast — the guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill and amphibious landing ship USS Ashland, officials said. Before the Eisenhower arrived, they had been patrolling the coast in search of al-Qaida members thought to be fleeing Somalia following Ethiopia's December invasion, aimed at unseating an Islamic movement that had taken control of the Somali capital.
U.S. officials said last week that they would begin to withdraw Navy forces in tandem with the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces, which have started to leave Somalia.
Uganda: NRM MPs Snub Somalia Deployment
New Vision (Kampala) - Joyce Namutebi - Kampala
NRM MPs yesterday rejected a motion which was aimed at accelerating the decision on the UPDF deployment in Somalia.
Three days notice is required to table a motion for a resolution of Parliament.
The defence minister's attempt to have the rule suspended and speed up Parliament's approval of the Somali mission failed.
A total of 45 MPs voted against, while 43 supported it and four abstained.
The opposition MPs stayed away for a second day in protest of the continued detention of the PRA suspects and what they call abuse of human rights.
The MPs who voted against argued that this would be setting a bad precedent.
They also claimed that for the Government to raise the issue at a time when the opposition had walked out, might raise suspicion.
"Unless there is an urgent matter that has cropped up... we will be setting a bad precedent if we do not follow the set procedures," Nakasongola MP Grace Tubwita said amid foot stamping.
Other MPs who debated against the motion were Mariam Nalubega (independent MP for youth, central region), Medi Mulumba (Luuka) and Mary Mugyenyi (Nyabushozi). Earlier, defence minister Crispus Kiyonga defended the rapid deployment.
"Following the summit of the African Union in Addis Ababa, the heads of state have expressed urgency for the AU to move to Somalia to stabilise the country. It is for this reason that I ask you to suspend rule 43," Kiyonga said.
The Government is ready to deploy 1,500 troops to the war-torn Somalia as soon as Parliament approves it.
Army representatives, led by Chief of Defence Forces Aronda Nyakairima, came to the House dressed in full military gear.
State minister for regional affairs Isaac Musumba as well as MPs Toskin Bartile (Kongasis) and Steven Kaliba (Fort Portal Municipality) debated in support of the motion.
The Speaker, Edward Ssekandi, said he had appealed to the opposition to return to the House, adding that their absence did not mean Parliament could not proceed with its work.
In a related development, defence state minister Ruth Nankabirwa yesterday vowed that the opposition will not deter the deployment of UPDF troops in Somalia. She confirmed that a UPDF battalion of 1,400, led by Maj. Gen. Karuhanga, was ready to leave in two-weeks time, after Parliament's approval and if those who promised to give assistance would meet their pledges.
"The opposition cannot block the Government which has already committed itself to sending a peace-keeping force and for which it was hailed in the just concluded AU Summit," she told reporters at the Media Centre in Kampala yesterday.
She added that the AU asked Uganda to increase its force to two battalions.
"But we had prepared only one battalion. Preparing the soldiers requires a lot of training and other logistics to suit the conditions."
Nankabirwa did not reveal the total cost of money the peace-keeping mission nor how much Uganda would spend.
She only disclosed that each soldier will receive salary and some additional allowances and that the soldiers will go with their guns and some other equipment.
The minister, who has just attended a summit for defence ministers in Addis Ababa, said all the seven IGAD member states unanimously approved the deployment in Somalia.