JOHANNESBURG -- American military personnel and their Somali allies were sifting through the aftermath of a battle with suspected Islamist militants in Somalia yesterday, a day after the U.S. Navy bombarded that nation's hilly shoreline with high explosives.
Investigators have found the bodies of at least eight fighters -- including one carrying a U.S. passport, a senior Somali official said.
"We have found an American, British, Swedish and some Middle Eastern passports on the corpses," said Hassan Dahir Mohamoud, the vice president of Puntland, a semi-autonomous state in northern Somalia where the fighting took place. "These are al-Qaida-connected forces from southern Somalia. Some of them have escaped, but they are being tracked down by our soldiers."
Mohamoud said U.S. soldiers were on the ground in Somalia to help collect intelligence and coordinate mop-up operations with American vessels patrolling off Somalia's coast.
One or two U.S. warships pounded the militants with cruise missiles or artillery after they were chased up a brushy mountain by government troops, he said.
Another Somali official later said that five gunmen had been captured. He added that combat operations were winding down and raised the militants' death toll to 10.
The two-day battle in the remote hills of Puntland marks at least the third time the U.S. military has intervened recently in Somalia, one of the murkiest fronts in the global war on terror.
It was unclear whether the latest U.S. bombardment was meant to target individual al-Qaida suspects or to help prop up Somalia's frail transitional government.
A Pentagon press statement neither confirmed nor denied the U.S. role in the battle in Puntland.
According to Somali sources, the fighting began when a fishing boat loaded with heavily armed men landed at the isolated northern fishing port of Bargal on Thursday and began shooting at local police.
Four officers were wounded before the regional government contacted U.S. Navy ships.
A task force of American and allied vessels, called CTF-150, constantly patrols Somalia's wild, 1,900-mile-long coastline against infiltration by international terrorists.
Muse Gelle, the provincial governor, said no civilians were injured in the U.S. strike because the area is uninhabited.
Paul Salopek writes for the Chicago Tribune.