As we approach the fourth anniversary of President Bush’s ‘victory” in Iraq, it looks like–while everyone is talking about withdrawal dates and surges in Baghdad– Dubya and his cohorts have been responsible for a similar horrific disaster in Somalia, in the Horn of Africa.
Using the infinite resources of the Internet (to go beyond my previous post), I’ve tried to cobble together an understanding of what lies behind the current horrific images coming from what is probably the most failed of all the globe’s failed states.
It’s an approximation. If substantially true, however, it indicates that Somalia is another hornet’s nest the Bush administration has stumbled into–and is now obliterating–obsessed as it is with the “war against terrorism.” It’s an obsession that so far has sewn only death and chaos and strengthened rather than destroyed Al Qaeda and radical jihad.
After the Black Hawk Down disaster in 1994, when 18 U.S. Army rangers died in a disastrous attempt to capture a Somali warlord, the U.S. Congress refused to fund any further military actions there. Over the following years the war lords continued to rampage and terrorize the country. In reaction, a group of relatively moderate Islamic clans joined together to form a loose knit Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).
In 2002, radical jihadis attacked a hotel and Israel aircraft in Kenya. Though the links of the UIC with Al Qaeda were far from clear, Washington was concerned that muslim radicals—allies, if not members of Al Qaeda–were being harbored in Somalia. It was time to open a new front in the war on terror. The leaders of Kenya and Ethiopia were invited to a heart to heart in the oval office. Despite Ethiopia’s abysmal human rights record, President Bush proclaimed the two leaders as “friends and allies of America.” Subseuqently, 1600 American troops were dispateched to Camp Lemonier Djibouti. Their ostensible purpose: to train local regional armies in counterterrorism.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Ethiopia were backing President Abudullahi Yusuf’s secular Transitional Federal Government, founded with UN backing in 2004, and located in Baidoa.
But Washington wasn’t just counting on U.N. backing to do the job. In January, 2006, the U.S. began secretly funneling large stacks of cash to the warlords in Somalia, including some of America’s most vicious former enemies—creating the hilariously misnamed “Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism.” They might have been brutal thugs,but if they were against the UJC and ready to help hunt down Al Qaeda, why not?
When news leaked of the CIA payments, things began to spiral out of control. The UJC laid bloody siege to the capital, and after three months, the CIA-backed war lords had been expelled from Mogadishu, by an Islamic federation that was now far more extreme than it had originally been.
The UIC promised a government of national unity under “Sharia law.” And indeed, backed also by Somali businessmen weary of the chaos, the Iislamists brought a desperately-needed respite to the crime and carnage that had wracked the country.
But the U.S. battle against the Islamists was just getting started .
Last July, a highly respected British based magazine, Africa Confidential , published a series of leaked communications, dated June 2006, between U.S. and British private military contractors that indicated they were planning to run covert military operations inside Somalia—with the knowledge of the CIA and in violation of a U.N. embargo at shipping arms into Somalia. Said the London observer presciently “Evidence of foreign involvement in the conflict would not only breach the UN arms embargo but could destabilize the entire region.”
Among the U.S. companies involved were the Florida-based ATS Worldwide. According to the company’s web site it employs former US and British special operations personnel and ‘can execute operations in support of host national indigenous forces’. (A few more companies like this and Bush might even consider scrapping the idea of a regular army as old-fashioned. Indeed, that’s what Rumsfeld had in mind.)
Meanwhile UIC forces were now advancing on Baidoa, the last stronghold of the “transitional” secular government, vowing to drive the Ethiopian backed regime from Somalia. By now arms were secretly flooding into the region from all sides–Ethiopia, Etriea, Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia. Somalia was to become the focus of an incredibly bloody proxy battle.
To aid the effort, the U.S. closed its eyes to millions of dollars worth of arms that the Ethiopians bought from North Korea–in blatant disregard of the very economic embargo of North Korea that the U.S. had pushed for in the first place. Nuclear menaces are one thing. Al Qaeda is another.
Finally, in December, backed by U.S. special forces units (and, one can surmise, American and British “private contractors”) the Ethiopian army smashed its way into Mogadishu with tanks and battle helicopters and sent the UIC forces scurrying into the mangrove swamps of southern Somalia.
Undoubtedly, as was the case when Bush launched the invasion of Iraq four years ago, those proposing the operation in Washington promised a quick, clean affair. The UIC would become history. Whatever radical Islamists they had been sheltering would by picked up and/or eliminated. Order would speedily be restored by an African peace keeping force. Al Qaeda would lose an important sanctuary in East Africa.
At first the plans seemed to work: in coordination with the Ethiopian military, Kenyan troops sealed off their border with Somalia, while US Navy ships patrolled the coast to cut off escape by water. On January 8, 2007 the U.S. followed up with a devastating airstrike by AC-130 gunships against supposed Al Qaeda targets. According to U.S. Officials the strike killed eight to 10 people with suspected terrorist ties but failed to kill any “high-value targets.”
Hundreds of other refugees fleeing Somalia were arrested in Kenya and flown to secret prisons in Ethiopia, to be interrogated by Ethiopian and American investigators. The state of human rights in Ethiopia is abysmal and tales of torture in its prisons are common. But apparently the interrogators also have failed to turn up any “high-value targets”.
Indeed, the American adventure in Somalia, seems to have backfired, tragically
Instead of 8000 African peace keepers showing up; only 1500 Ugandans have arrived on the scene, with little interest in becoming involved in the bloody strife.
High priced American “private contractors” have not been as reticent. The State Department for instance has hired Dyn Corp International—an old Iraqi hand–for $10 million to help equip and provide logistical support to international peacekeepers in Somalia —assuming those peacekeepers ever show up. This, of course, permits the U.S. to play a critical role in the operation without actually assigning combat forces. (They’ll just pay American vets exhorbitant sums for the same work.).
Meanwhile, the brutal bombardments by rampaging Ethiopian troops—traditionally disliked and distrusted by the Somalis –have provoked exactly the violent nationalist reaction that many had predicted. Their continued excesses have provided a rallying point for radical islamist groups and several key clan leaders.
Thus, Mogadishu is awash in arms and carnage. Thousands have been killed; bodies lie rotting in the streets; hundreds of of thousands have fled their homeland. Sound familiar?
As I made clear at the start, this version of what’s been going on in the Horn of Africa is approximate.I would appreciate input from anyone familiar withthe situation, but I suggest it would be most fertile ground for investigators from the U.S. Congress and the media.
Barry Lando, a former 60 Minutes producer, is the author of “Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.” He also blogs at Barrylando.com.