WASHINGTON — The clandestine U.S. military campaign to combat al-Qaida's franchise in Yemen is expanding to fight the Islamist militancy in Somalia, the New York Times reported Friday, citing unnamed American officials.
The officials said new evidence indicates that insurgents in the two countries are forging closer ties and possibly plotting attacks against the United States.
A U.S. military drone aircraft attacked several Somalis in the militant group al-Shabab late last month, the officials said, killing at least one of its midlevel operatives and wounding others.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that U.S. military forces landed in Somalia to retrieve the bodies of dead or wounded militants.
The strike was carried out by the same Special Operations Command unit battling militants in Yemen, and it represented an intensification of a U.S. military campaign in a mostly lawless region where weak governments have allowed groups with links to al-Qaida to flourish.
The Obama administration's increased focus on Somalia comes as the White House has unveiled a strategy to battle al-Qaida in the post-Osama bin Laden era. Some U.S. military and intelligence officials view al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen and Somalia as a greater threat to the United States than the group of operatives in Pakistan who have been barraged with hundreds of drone strikes directed by the CIA in recent years.
The military drone strike in Somalia last month was the first U.S. attack there since 2009, when helicopter-borne commandos killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a senior leader of the group that carried out the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Although it appears that no senior Somali militants were killed in last month's drone strike, a Pentagon official said Friday that one of the militants who was wounded had been in contact recently with Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born radical cleric now hiding in Yemen.