East Africa keeps popping up in the news:
NAIROBI, Kenya — American naval forces fired missiles into southern Somalia on Monday, aiming at what the Defense Department called terrorist targets.
Residents reached by telephone said the only casualties were three wounded civilians, three dead cows, one dead donkey and a partly destroyed house.
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman in Washington, said the target was a “known Al Qaeda terrorist.”
The missile strike was aimed at Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan born in 1979 who is wanted by the F.B.I. for questioning in the nearly simultaneous attacks on a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, and on an Israeli airliner taking off from there, in 2002, said three American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the strike or its details.
One American military official said the naval attack on Monday was carried out with at least two Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from a submarine. The official said the missiles were believed to have hit their targets. Witnesses on the ground, though, described the attack differently.
“I did not know from where they were launched, but what I know is that they hit a house in this town,” said Muhammad Amin Abdullahi Osman, a resident of Dhobley, a small town in southern Somalia near the Kenyan border.
Mr. Muhammad said two missiles slammed into the house around 3:30 a.m.
Monday’s attack was not the first time that American forces had fired missiles into Somalia or used airstrikes in pursuit of what the Pentagon has called terrorist operatives in the country. They did so at least three times last year.
Dhobley lies in the growing swath of southern Somalia that seems to be falling under the control of the country’s Islamist movement once again. The Islamists rose to power in 2006 and brought a degree of law and order to Somalia for the first time since the central government collapsed in 1991.
But they were driven out of Somalia in late 2006 and early 2007 by a joint Ethiopian-American offensive. The Americans and Ethiopians said Somalia’s Islamists were harboring Qaeda terrorists, including men connected to the 1998 embassy bombings. Thousands of Ethiopian troops poured across the border, backed up by American warplanes and American intelligence. The Islamist movement then went underground.
But in the past several months, the Islamists seem to be making a comeback, taking over towns in southern Somalia, including Dhobley, and inflicting a steady stream of casualties on Ethiopian forces with suicide bombs and hit-and-run attacks. Efforts by foreign diplomats and the United Nations to broker a truce have failed, and concerns are rising that Somalia could be headed toward another war-induced famine like the one it suffered in the early 1990s.
This kind of (hopefully) carefully-targeted missile strike seems like a better idea than our last big idea: sponsoring the conquest of the furious denizens of Somalia by their ancient Abyssinian enemies. I saw "Black Hawk Down," and the Somalis really didn't look like the kind of people who would passively put up with foreign occupation.
I call the Ethiopian invasion our Prester John strategy because it's a revival of the grand strategy of Christendom in the post-Crusades era: to form an alliance with the Christian king of Abyssinia, Priest John, to open a second front against the Musselmen. Negotiations went on for centuries — we have a record from 1306 in Italy of a diplomatic delegation of 30 Ethiopians on their way to see the Pope; and the king of Portugal sent a delegation to Ethiopia in the 1520s that spent six years there and returned with a letter from Prester John asking for technological assistance to enable him to make war more effectively on the Muslims.
Allying with Ethiopia was a cool-sounding idea back then, too, but it proved pointless in the end, and I suspect our latest alliance will too.