Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Ethiopia's armed forces will carry out missions against terrorist training camps in Somalia, under a new joint anti-terrorism strategy with neighbors and the U.S., CNSNews.com has learned.
A senior Ethiopian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said attacks would be directed against training grounds of the al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, a local militant group associated with the al Qaeda network.
Both U.S. and Ethiopian officials were quoted late last year as saying al-Ittihad was suspected to have carried out attacks against Israeli targets in Kenya last November, having crossed into the country from southern Somalia by boat.
Kenyan authorities said they had evidence that the planning for the attacks, which cost the lives of 10 Kenyans and three Israelis, was carried out in the Somali town of Baidoa.
The new counter-terror plans were reportedly discussed in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, during a three-day visit last week by Major-General John F. Sattler, commander of the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told reporters during a visit to London last week that Ethiopian troops would continue to penetrate Somalia until the threat of terrorism in the region was eliminated.
Somalia has been without a central government for a decade. The fragmented country has become a training group for terrorist cells associated with al Qaeda, and the State Department, in its 2001 report on global terrorism, described al-Ittihad as Somalia's largest militant Islamic organization.
After his talks in Addis Ababa, Sattler said the U.S. considered Ethiopia "a valued partner in our mission - to detect, disrupt and defeat terrorists" whom he said posed an imminent threat to coalition partners in the Horn of Africa region.
Those partners include Kenya, Djibouti, Yemen and Ethiopia.
The military task force arrived in the region late last year to work with the coalition partners as part of the global war on terrorism.
About 1,300 troops are now stationed at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, while a small number of liaison personnel are based in other parts of the region.
"We will press the fight at every turn, as long as it takes, with the help of our coalition partners," Sattler said. "Together, we will win this fight."
The American officer said the forces would help the Ethiopian government in training, teaching the tactics and techniques of military activities and procedures for conducting anti-terror operations.
During a meeting with President Bush in December, Zenawi pledged to keep working with the U.S. to share information and cut off funding for terrorists.
Last month, the foreign ministers of Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen met in Khartoum to set up a regional alliance they said was aimed at combating terrorism in the Horn of Africa.
A similar anti-terror focus is being directed at Yemen, where three U.S. missionaries were murdered in December.
The U.S. believes many al Qaeda members went into hiding in Yemen after the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001.
Terror cells in Yemen have been blamed for two attacks off Yemen's coast - on the French tanker Limburg last October and the U.S. Navy destroyer U.S.S. Cole two years ago. Seventeen U.S. sailors died in that bombing.
The arrival several months ago of the Task Force in Djibouti prompted speculation that the troops were being put in place ahead of a possible war against Iraq.
But Sattler said in Addis Ababa that the force was there to focus purely on the Horn of Africa.
In reply to a press conference question about the Iraq situation, he said regardless of whether there is a war there, "we will maintain 100 percent of our focus and our effort right here working with our coalition partners.
"If something was to happen, we will not be pulled to go anywhere else in the world," he said. "We will stay right here and continue to work very closely with the nations in eastern Africa."
(CNSNews Pacific Rim Bureau Chief Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
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