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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Somali Journalist Says He Saw U.S. Troops

NAIROBI, Kenya -- A freelance journalist said Sunday that he had seen U.S. troops on the ground in south Somalia working with Ethiopian forces hunting fugitive Islamists.

"They were Americans, I have no doubt," the journalist said, referring to helicopters he saw overhead and personnel he bumped into with Ethiopian soldiers at a military base.

Rumors have swirled for days that U.S. personnel were inside Somalia since a Jan. 8 airstrike aimed at al-Qaida suspects believed to be among the Islamists.

The strike was Washington's first overt military engagement in Somalia since 1994.

But there has been no official confirmation of a U.S. ground presence, which would be sure to inflame political passions in Somalia and the Horn of Africa region, where Muslims complain of heightened discrimination in the name of the "war on terror."

The Somali journalist said that while on a filming trip to the Somalia-Kenya border area in recent days, he saw about 30 white men in military dress, some showing U.S. Marine insignia, with Ethiopian counterparts at the village of Kuldio.

The journalist, who works for various local and foreign media but asked not to be named for security reasons, said his vehicle was also tracked from the air for hours by two helicopters each carrying three white crew members.

Neither U.S. Embassy officials in Kenya, who also have responsibility for Somalia, nor spokesmen for the regional U.S. counter-terrorism base in Djibouti, could be immediately reached to comment on the journalist's report.