Three missiles hit Dobley, a town four miles from the Kenyan border, destroying a home and seriously injuring eight people, police and witnesses told the Associated Press. The remnants of an Islamic force that had once ruled much of southern Somalia took over Dobley last week.
“The U.S. conducted an attack against a known al-Qaida terrorist in southern Somalia,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said, but he refused to provide details on the type of attack, the identity of the target or the outcome.
It was unclear whether the United States coordinated the attack with the Somali government or other governments in the region.
“As we have repeatedly said, we will continue to pursue terrorist activities and their operations wherever we may find them,” Whitman said.
But a military official, speaking to Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity, said at least one cruise missile, possibly more, was launched at the target.
“They’re still trying to assess the damage, the effectiveness,” the official said.
It was the fourth U.S. airstrike on Somalia in 14 months, according to Reuters.
A police officer told the AP that the eight wounded were hit by shrapnel. An aid worker in Dobley said up to six people were still trapped in the rubble by midday. It was not clear whether these victims were included in the police officer’s tally.
“We woke up with a loud and big bang and when we came out we found our neighbor’s house completely obliterated as if no house existed here,” a resident of the town, Fatuma Abdullahi, told the AP. “We are taking shelter under trees. Three planes were flying over our heads.”
Clan elder Ahmed Nur Dalab said a senior Islamic official, Hassan Turki, was in town Sunday to mediate between his fighters and a militia loyal to the government, the AP reported. Turki’s forces took over Dobley last week.
Local official Ali Hussein told the BBC that many people were fleeing the town.
Another resident said: “Right now — in full daylight — the planes keep flying over us. They are so low that we’re deafened by their engines.”
In early 2007, Somali troops and their Ethiopian allies drove out a radical Islamic group to which Turki is allied. The group had taken control over much of southern Somalia.
The Islamic forces have fought to regain power, and appear to be gathering momentum again in recent weeks. On Monday, the group overran Bur Haqaba — a strategic hilltop town about 37 miles from the provincial capital of Baidoa that had been one of the group’s main bases in the south. They released prisoners from jail and killed a police chief before retreating, witnesses said.
Last month, they briefly took over the southern Somalia town of Dinsor, killing nine government soldiers.
Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
The U.S. accused the Somali Islamists of harboring those responsible for attacks on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The Islamists denied this, as well as reports they had links to al-Qaida.