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U.S. targeted al Qaeda suspects in Somalia: reports


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. gunship has conducted a strike against two suspected al Qaeda operatives in southern Somalia, but it was not known whether the mission was successful, U.S. news networks reported on Monday.

The U.S. Air Force plane, operated by the Special Operations Command, flew from its base in Djibouti to the southern tip of Somalia, where the al Qaeda suspects were believed to have fled from the capital Mogadishu, U.S. networks reported.

Pentagon spokesman said he had no information on the reports.

The two suspected al Qaeda operatives were not named but CBS News said one was a suspect in the car bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the other was the Islamist group's senior leader in East Africa.

The report said many bodies were seen on the ground after the attack by the AC-130 gunship, but the identities of the dead were not confirmed.

The al Qaeda suspects fled Mogadishu after Ethiopian troops invaded on December 28 and were tracked with unmanned aerial drones as they moved south, CBS said.

NBC News reported that U.S. officials said Ethiopian forces, which had conducted raids in Somalia, had gathered intelligence on three potential al Qaeda leaders believed responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania.

NBC reported that the airstrikes were part of an ongoing operation and that the U.S. aircraft carrier Eisenhower was moving from the North Arabian Sea toward Somalia to support the operation.

EU's Solana suggests UN peacekeepers for Somalia

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, suggested on Monday that U.N. peacekeepers go into Somalia after the first batch of Africa Union troops is deployed.

"The force for now is a Ugandan force," Solana told reporters after meeting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "But it is likely that the United Nations will have to take some decisions on the follow-up."

Solana said he did not think the African Union could handle another large operation in addition to its deployment of troops in Sudan's Darfur region.

"I put that on the table," Solana said of his talks with Ban, adding he had not expected an immediate response and that peacekeeping officials had to analyze the situation in the northeast African country.

"But this is something we have to think about," said Solana, a former secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The United Nations and the United States failed a decade ago to restore order in Somalia, which has been in chaos since warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre in 1991 and then fought each other.

Islamists ruled the capital, Mogadishu, for six months until they were ousted by Ethiopia before the new year.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf entered the city on Monday for the first time since his election in 2004, protected by his soldiers and those from Ethiopia, whose leaders say they will withdraw as soon as possible.

Still, a U.N. peacekeeping force may be difficult to muster as the world body is fielding close to 100,000 troops in 18 missions. Memories are also strong of the failed operation in Somalia from 1992 to 1995.

"We face an unprecedented demand for peacekeeping as well as a range of growing demands for preventive diplomacy, good offices, peace-building and efforts in conflict management," Ban told the U.N. Security Council on Monday.

Ethiopian troops are expected to pull out of Somalia in a matter of weeks, while an African peacekeeping force is cobbled together to fill the anticipated vacuum in security that the government admits it cannot handle on its own.

Uganda has agreed to send troops, subject to approval by parliament, which is not due to be in session until the end of the month. Diplomats say South Africa and Nigeria have spoken of contributing troops but have not made any commitments.

The United States has offered $14 million and the European Union $15 million to help with the deployment, Solana said.

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