In Jan. 2007, the U.S. launched airstrikes on the retreating Islamists, who they believed included three members of al-Qaeda suspected of involvement in the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. The air strikes were strongly criticized in a number of Muslim countries, which accused the Americans of killing Somali civilians. Battles between the insurgents and Somali and Ethiopian troops intensified in March, leaving 300 civilians dead in what has been called the worst fighting in 15 years. The fighting created a humanitarian crisis, with more than 320,000 Somalis fleeing the fighting in Mogadishu in just two months. In July, a national reconciliation conference opened in Mogadishu but was quickly postponed when leading opposition figures failed to appear. The fighting intensified once again in October. The Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia, a coalition of moderate Islamist leaders, and the transitional government agreed to a cease-fire in June 2008 that called on Ethiopian troops that were propping up the fragile government to be replaced by UN troops. The future of the deal was tenuous from the start and was greeted by much skepticism. Indeed, it was unclear if the UN could assemble a force willing to be deployed to the troubled region, and several powerful Islamist groups did not participate in the negotiations.
Al-Shabab, the militant wing of SICC, began gaining strength in 2007. It allied itself with al-Qaeda and won the support of many local warlords, primarily in the south. The group has raised alarms in the U.S. that its brand of militant Islam would spread throughout eastern Africa and beyond. The group seeks to return Somalia to an Islamist state and has intimidated civilians with stonings, by chopping off hands, and by banning many forms of technology, while continuing to wage war against the transitional government. Al-Shabab has taken advantage of the power vacuum and weak transitional government. By February 2009, the group controlled almost all of southern