(CNSNews.com) - Amid reports that U.S. and allied aircraft are flying reconnaissance missions over Somalia in preparation for possible attacks on terror bases, a British-based analyst noted that the U.S. has won important backing for military intervention from several local warlords in the war-ravaged East African country.
In an echo of anti-Taliban "score-settling" against rivals in Afghanistan, three Somali militia leaders have called publicly for the U.S. to act against their rivals, whom they accuse of being linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network.
According to Richard W. Bennett of AFI Research, the appeals were the result of successful negotiations by CIA operatives who offered the warlords weapons and financial aid.
Bennett says the development has "some major advantages for Washington as it provides a degree of legitimacy for U.S. military action" against suspected al Qaeda militants in Somalia.
U.S. media reports on Thursday quoted officials as saying possibly dozens of al Qaeda fighters had entered to the Horn of Africa country after fleeing the fighting in Afghanistan.
At a recent news conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, warlords Hassan Mohammed Nur Shatigudud, Abdullahi Nur Gabyow and Hussein Aideed called for foreign intervention to prevent the local and foreign terrorists from going to ground.
The warlords claimed that al Qaeda and a local allied militant group, al-Itihad al-Islamiya, have bases in and around Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
Mogadishu is also the headquarters of Somalia's U.N.-backed transitional government, which the warlords violently oppose.
"The al Itihad and the al Qaeda terrorists who escaped from Afghanistan are already trickling back into Somalia," Aideed said, claiming that 57 "terrorist leaders" had recently slipped into the country, hiding weapons there.
But diplomats quoted in regional reports warned that the militia chiefs have merely seized on the anti-terror campaign as a convenient way to seize control.
Leading Somali writer Nuruddin Farah, also warned in an op-ed piece this week that "the men at the head of these murderous factions are untrustworthy, what with their shifting alliances and the fact that each will point a censorious finger at every rival, whom they describe as associates of al Qaeda."
"Do not be fooled by the misinformation the self-declared faction leaders dole out; there is no truth in much of what the warlords say," he wrote. "In a significant way Somalia is like Afghanistan in that no single political or religious movement has been able to unite its quarrelling warlords for any length of time."
For its part, the transitional government had vociferously denied reports of al Qaeda infiltration.
"The United States knows well there are no terrorist camps in Somalia, therefore we see no acceptable reason for an American strike against Somalia," transitional president Abdiqassim Salad Hassan told the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.
"Somalia has no-one belonging to al Qaeda," he said. "We are exerting intense efforts to convince the United States we are combating internal terrorism and chaos, and that we are in a dire need for its assistance and cooperation in this respect."
Hassan also claimed that al-Itihad al-Islamiya - the Somali group which Washington says is linked to al Qaeda - "has been dissolved and has no actual presence [in Somalia]."
But Bennett of AFI predicts that the Bush administration, with scores to settle in Somalia after a U.S. peacekeeping mission there ended in disaster, will take action in the country irrespective of the denials.
He said the chances were good U.S. Marines previously in action in Afghanistan, along with Special Forces units, would "soon be openly operating in support of the CIA Special Operations Group paramilitaries believed to have been inserted into Somalia some weeks ago."
In recent days, Germany's largest naval deployment since World War II has seen six warships head for the Horn of Africa.
Although their destination port has not been made public, the small but strategically-located country of Djibouti, Somalia's northern neighbor, is considered a strong possibility.
Djibouti's government-owned radio station reported last month that the Germans would establish a military training camp there in January for elite troops. Other reports said they would use Djibouti as a supply and rest-and-relaxation base for forces participating in patrols of the Indian Ocean aimed at capturing terrorists fleeing from Afghanistan.
But media reports in Kenya this week suggested the Germans would be taking part in operations to root out terrorists in Somalia.
They echoed German press reports last month which said Bundeswehr units were likely to participate in U.S. operations in Somalia. The German Foreign Ministry at the time said it had no knowledge of such plans.
In Kenya, the presence of British warships in the port of Mombassa - southwest of Somalia - has added to speculation about an imminent allied strike.
Some opposition lawmakers in Kenya have accused President Daniel arap Moi of colluding with the U.S. and Britain "to unleash terror on Somalia."
Somalia descended into anarchy after the fall of military ruler Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991. Fighting between rival clan factions, along with drought, soon threatened millions of lives, prompting the U.S. to send troops to safeguard U.N. food shipments.
The mission foundered when American troops were ambushed in October 1993. Eighteen servicemen were killed, 78 were wounded, and two helicopters were shot down in the attack.
According to counter-terrorism researcher Yossef Bodansky, al Qaeda played a key role in the attack. Bodansky wrote in his 1999 book "Bin Laden: The man who declared war on America," that bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had masterminded in the ambush.
The indictment in the trial of those accused of blowing up the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in 1998 named another bin Laden aide, Mohammed Atef, as having been involved in the Somalia attack.
In the aftermath of the assault, President Clinton pulled the U.S. peacekeepers out in phases.