LONDON, Dec 2: The United States has asked Britain to help prepare military strikes against Somalia in the next phase of the global campaign against terrorism, the Sunday Telegraph reported here.
US President George W. Bush indicated last week that Somalia, Yemen and Sudan were likely to be the next targets in the war on terrorism because of their links to al-Qaeda, the network of prime terror suspect Osama bin Laden, according to the paper.
A team of British military top-brass which visited the US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, last week was asked to prepare a strategy for attacks on sites in Somalia, the paper said.
They have now returned to London to discuss the plan with Ministry of Defence ministers, it added.
According to the paper the request came as it emerged that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was funding a number of terrorist training camps in Somalia used by a militant Islamic group with close links to al-Qaeda.
Hussein has agreed to help out the al-Itihaad group in return for assistance from the Somali authorities in avoiding UN sanctions, the Sunday Telegraph said, quoting Iraqi dissident groups based here.
Bin Laden’s network is known to have several training camps in southern Somalia and there has been speculation that he might head there if forced to flee Afghanistan.
Western intelligence agencies told the paper that members of al-Itihaad had been trained at al-Qaeda camps and that members of the group are suspected of involvement in the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Pentagon officials have confirmed that US naval ships have been stationed off the Somali coast to prevent bin Laden gaining access to the country by sea, the paper said.
Another British Sunday paper reported that the next phase of the war was being planned not against Somalia, but Iraq.
The US is planning to depose Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by giving armed support to Iraqi opposition forces across the country, The Observer said.
Bush has ordered the CIA and top military personnel to draw up detailed plans for an operation that could begin in months, according to the paper.
The plan is being opposed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other EU leaders and threatens to blow apart the fragile international coalition, the paper added.
The plan envisages a combined operation with US bombers targeting key military installations with ground troops assisting opposition groups in the north and the south of the country.
Sources quoted in the paper say the trigger for such an invasion would be the refusal of Hussein to resubmit to weapons inspections under the UN sanctions imposed after the Gulf war.
Washington has been told that evidence it has presented on an Iraqi link to September 11 is at best circumstantial.
“In the past week the Americans have shut up about Iraqi links to September 11 and have been talking a lot more about their weapons programme,” said a European diplomat quoted in the paper.
INTER-CLAN FIGHTING: At least 15 people died and 20 others were wounded in inter-clan fighting in southern Somalia this weekend, travellers said here Sunday.
Eleven people were killed Saturday afternoon and four others died overnight in the fighting at Tobonka Bondo village, 35 kilometres south of the capital Mogadishu, the travellers said.—AFP