MOGADISHU, Somalia — At least one U.S. warship bombarded a remote, mountainous village in Somalia where Islamic militants had set up a base, officials in the northern region of Puntland said Saturday.
The attack from a U.S. destroyer took place late Friday, said Muse Gelle, the regional governor. The extremists had arrived Wednesday by speedboat at the port town of Bargal.
Gelle said the area is a dense thicket, making it difficult for security forces from the semiautonomous republic of Puntland to intervene on its own.
A local radio station quoted Puntland’s leader, Ade Muse, as saying that his forces had battled with the extremists for hours before the U.S. ships arrived and used their cannons. Muse said five of his troops were wounded, but that he had no information about casualties among the extremists.
A task force of coalition ships, called CTF-150, is permanently based in the northern Indian Ocean and patrols the Somali coast in hopes of intercepting international terrorists. U.S. destroyers are normally assigned to the task force and patrol in pairs.
At an international conference in Singapore, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters who asked on Saturday about the Somalia reports, “Frankly, I don’t know exactly what was going on. I’ve been on the road. And I wouldn’t be commenting on operational activities anyway.”
CNN International, quoting a Pentagon official, also reported the U.S. warship’s involvement.
A Pentagon spokesman told The Associated Press he had no information about the incident.
“This is a global war on terror and the U.S. remains committed to reducing terrorist capabilities when and where we find them,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
“We recognize the importance of working closely with allies to seek out, identify, locate, capture, and if necessary, kill terrorists and those who would provide them safe haven,” Whitman said. “The very nature of some of our operations, as well as the success of those operations is often predicated on our ability to work quietly with our partners and allies.”
Puntland’s minister of information, Mohamed Abdulrahman Banga, told the AP that the extremists arrived heavily armed in two fishing boats from southern Somalia, which they controlled for six months last year before being routed by Ethiopian troops sent to prop up a faltering Somali government.
“They had their own small boats and guns. We do not know exactly where they came from — maybe from Ras Kamboni, where they were cornered in January,” he said.
Local fishermen, contacted by telephone, said about a dozen fighters arrived Wednesday, but Puntland officials said the number could be as high as 35.
The United States has repeatedly accused Somalia’s Council of Islamic Courts of harboring international terrorists linked to Al Qaeda and allegedly responsible for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The U.S. sent a small number of special operations troops with the Ethiopian forces that drove the Islamic forces into hiding. U.S. warplanes have carried out at least two airstrikes in an attempt to kill suspected Al Qaeda members, Pentagon officials have said.
In Mogadishu, unknown gunmen killed a government official, Hassan Ali Sa’id, in the capital’s southern neighborhood late Saturday as he was about to enter his house, a neighbor said. Sa’id was district commissioner of the Howlwadaag area.
“We heard two shots and we came out and we saw our neighbor lying in the street and a car disappearing,” said Sa’id Ahmed Yonis.
Sa’id is the second district commissioner killed in Mogadishu in the past month.