The US has retracted its claim that a positioning device found in an Afghanistan cave provided evidence of the links between al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and Islamic extremists in Somalia.
The Pentagon said it had been wrong in its initial claim on Wednesday that the global positioning system (GPS) unit had once belonged to Sergeant Gary Gordon, a US soldier who was killed in Mogadishu during a failed military action in 1993.
It now believes the unit, which bore the name “G. Gordon”, belonged to a US pilot who had served in Afghanistan.
This pilot gave the GPS system to another pilot, who subsequently lost it during a skirmish in the recent two-week military campaign in south-western Afghanistan.
It is not clear why the Pentagon went public with speculation about how the GPS unit might have ended up in an Afghan cave but the claimed Somalia link would clearly have bolstered the US argument about the global nature of its foe.
Since the outbreak of the war in Afghanistan, the US has said repeatedly that al-Qaeda has operated in as many as 50 to 60 countries around the world.
But the linkages have sometimes been difficult to make in a war where the adversary has been particularly elusive.
Earlier this week, the Washington Post, citing senior US government officials, said Sudan had captured one of Osama bin Laden’s top aides, Abu Anas Liby.
The US was reported to be urging his transfer to Egypt to face charges of planning an attempted 1995 assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The next day, however, the administration backed off that claim, saying that the man jailed in Sudan was a much lower level al-Qaeda member with a name that sounded like Mr Liby’s.
In Sudan, at least, there is strong evidence of al-Qaeda links dating back to the mid-1990s, when Mr bin Laden used the country as a sanctuary.
The Somali connection has been more difficult to piece together, however.
The US has forced the closure of one of the country’s largest banks, claiming that it was funnelling money to al-Ittihad, a militant Islamic group that the US says is linked to al-Qaeda.
But in a recent study, the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said there was little evidence that al-Qaeda had ever been active in Sudan.