strikes On Somalia: A New Stage In Washington’s Illegal “Terror”
By Chris Marsden
11 January, 2007
air strikes against targets in the south of Somalia have claimed a substantial
number of civilian lives. The bombing campaign, begun Sunday night and
continued on Monday, mark a major escalation in the Bush administration’s
lawless use of violence to achieve Washington’s strategic aims
under the auspices of its “global war on terrorism.”
The attacks mark the first
direct US military intervention in Somalia since 1994, when President
Clinton ordered US troops withdrawn following the “Blackhawk Down”
episode that led to the deaths of 18 Army commandos during street fighting
in Mogadishu. The recent attacks, part of an intensified attempt to
establish American hegemony over the entire Horn of Africa, have heightened
the threat that the conflict in Somalia will ignite a regional war with
The attacks on Hayi, 30 miles
from Afmadow, and on a remote island 155 miles away, involved a US Air
Force AC-130 gunship launched from a base in Djibouti. A Somali Transitional
Federal Government (TFG) spokesman said, “So many dead people
were lying in the area. We do not know who is who, but the raid was
Yesterday, two helicopter
gunships, described by a Somali official as American, attacked Afmadow,
a town close to the Kenyan border, killing 31 civilians, including two
newlyweds, according to witnesses.
Following the first attacks
the president of the US-puppet interim administration, Abdullahi Yusuf,
dutifully stated, “The US has a right to bombard terrorist suspects
who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.” Washington
alleges the targeted villages were sheltering Islamist fighters, including
members of Al Qaeda.
Prior to these assaults,
the US had already dispatched three warships to patrol the Somali coast
and has also sent an aircraft carrier. The US air strike took place
at the southernmost tip of Somalia, which is the scene of heavy fighting
between Ethiopian forces and Islamist militias and is where the US has
stationed its ships.
The direct US military intervention
is in part a product of the Bush administration’s inability to
rely on various proxies it had hoped would be able to advance Washington’s
The US response to the driving
out of its military from the capital Mogadishu in 1993 was first to
turn to the UN in an effort to subjugate the country, then to back various
warlords and finally to sponsor the creation of the TFG. However, this
only fuelled anti-US sentiment and encouraged popular support for the
Union of Islamic Courts.
The US-backed December 24
invasion of Somalia by up to 15,000 well-armed Ethiopian troops, backed
by MIG jet fighters, appeared to easily sweep away the poorly-equipped
Islamist militia. But having successfully ousted the UIC regime by using
Ethiopia, Washington has nothing to replace it with that can stabilize
the country. Instead, the conflict unleashed in Somalia together with
Washington’s plans to encourage other states to act as its military
proxies threatens to destablise the entire Horn of Africa.
As well as pitched battles
in the south near the border with Kenya, street fighting has continued
in Mogadishu and elsewhere—led by an alleged 3,500 militiamen
but involving local workers and youth angered by the military presence
of Somalia’s long-time enemy. Somalia is overwhelmingly Muslim
and has twice been at war with its much larger neighbour. Ethiopia,
with its Christian ruling elite, is viewed as a puppet of the US.
Hundreds of people have taken
to the streets of the capital, Mogadishu, in protests during which at
least three civilians have been killed—forcing yet another delay
in a planned campaign by the “transitional government” to
seize the large quantities of arms held by the city’s residents.
Numerous reports speak of
the Islamist militants having avoided a direct conflict with Ethiopian
troops, but still having the potential to wage a guerrilla campaign.
Ted Dagne, a regional specialist at the Congressional Research Service,
said, “It looks as if the Islamists have been defeated, but what
they have done is gone underground.” And a diplomatic source commented,
“A lot of the militia more or less melted away. They’re
still present; they’re still armed, and there’s a real possibility
that they could become an insurgency if a political settlement can’t
In addition, the warlords
previously backed by the US but suppressed by the UIC have seized their
chance to reassert their presence in Mogadishu.
Ethiopia was happy to curry
favour with Washington by acting on its behalf in bringing down the
UIC. And it was well rewarded for doing so. USA Today has noted that
Ethiopia, which has a population more than seven times greater than
Somalia’s, received nearly $20 million in US military aid since
late 2002. It cited Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter on the
“close working relationship” with the US, including intelligence
sharing, arms aid and training—with 100 US military personnel
currently working in Ethiopia.
USA Today continued, “Advisers
from the Guam National Guard have been training Ethiopians in basic
infantry skills at two camps in Ethiopia, said Maj. Kelley Thibodeau,
a spokeswoman for US forces in Djibouti.”
US involvement in Ethiopia’s
occupation is coordinated from Djibouti, which serves as the US military
training and operations centre for the Horn of Africa. The comparatively
tiny state was formerly French Somaliland and, as its name suggests,
is primarily ethnically Somali. It is bordered by Ethiopia, Eritrea
and Somalia and has a large coastline on the strategically vital Red
Sea and Gulf of Aden overlooking Yemen.
The US established an 1,800-strong
Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa based at Camp Lemonier in 2002.
It conducts “host nation anti-terrorism training” for various
states, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Seychelles, Sudan,
Yemen and Somalia.
However, the US can ill-afford
to have its own troops deployed for a long period in Somalia. The US
5th fleet stated last month that a naval strike group sent to the Persian
Gulf in order to threaten Iran would be available to help off the coast
of Somalia. But should hostilities against Iran escalate, along with
the deployment of thousands of additional troops to Iraq, this will
leave US forces massively overextended.
The ships involved in the
Somali operation belong to the Bahrain-based Combined Task Force 150,
a multinational force that includes ships from the US, Canada, France,
Germany, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Its remit included the waters
of the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, parts of the Indian Ocean, the
Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea.
Washington’s unreliable proxies
Washington cannot rely on
the repressive Ethiopian regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi indefinitely.
Ethiopia is loathe to mount a protracted policing operation. Zenawi
has stated that he would like to withdraw his troops within a matter
of weeks. Its population is split almost equally between Christians
and Muslims, including many ethnic Somalis in the eastern desert region,
the Ogaden, and the intervention faces substantial popular opposition
But so far there is no concrete
plan to replace them with an alternative force.
Somalia’s puppet regime
has no significant and stable military of its own. It claims to have
a force of 10,000, but this is undoubtedly an exaggeration. The January
6 Washington Post reported on a meeting where Prime Minister Ali Mohamed
Gedi assembled a “revived Somali national army . . . in the sand-blown
yard of the former parliament, a hollowed-out building splashed with
grenade blasts and scrawled with apocalyptic graffiti.
“About 1,000 men sat
in the sun, soldiers who had been inactive for 15 years, old men with
graying beards wearing whatever shade of camouflage they found at the
market or dug out of storage. Few had boots; most wore leather loafers,
sandals or thin-soled tennis shoes. They squinted at the newly ascendant,
who was swept into power last week on the strength of Ethiopian soldiers
now pointing machine guns at the crowd.
“They all stood to
sing the Somali national anthem, with many soldiers simply moving their
lips, having forgotten the words. When it was over, 100 or so civilians
heckled the new force—‘Traitors!’—and Gedi zipped
off in convoy. Even at such orchestrated events in Mogadishu, it is
unclear who is in control, and the same could be said of Somalia itself.”
The transitional government
is reported to be seeking to buttress this force with around a thousand
soldiers from the northern Somali regional autonomy of Puntland, the
home region of interim President Abdullahi Yusuf, and by making alliances
with various warlords—this is a recipe for disaster.
The Bush administration is
attempting to overcome its difficulties by assembling a military force
from various African states. In January 2005, the member states of the
Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)—Djibouti, Eritrea,
Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda and Somalia—proposed a military
mission to Somalia. The UN encouraged this by partially lifting a 1992
arms embargo on Somalia—one that in fact was never really applied.
Late last year the International Contact Group on Somalia, which includes
the US, European Union and several African nations, proposed an 8,000-strong
force be created to shore up the transitional government, then under
siege by the Islamist militia. UN resolution 1725, adopted December
6, authorised the creation of such a regional force by IGAD and the
US Assistant Secretary of
State for Africa Jendayi Frazer has announced that Washington will provide
$24 million in additional funding to support development and peacekeeping
efforts in Somalia, of which at least $10 million will go towards funding
the proposed intervention force. This is in addition to the $16.5 million
pledged by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The EU has also pledged an
extra €36 million (US$47 million) in aid, on top of €15 million
already set aside to finance an African peacekeeping force.
At an ICG meeting in Nairobi,
Kenya on January 5, attended by the UN, US, EU, the African Union, Arab
League and IGAD states, the nearest thing to a concrete pledge of troops
was between 1,000 and 2,000—promised by Uganda’s President
Yoweri Museveni, conditional on the agreement of his parliament. Fraser
declared her hope that they would be in place by the end of the month.
Ethiopia has also sent ministers to lobby Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya and
Sudan to send troops to Somalia.
Even so, analysts have questioned
whether Ugandan troops—which are in any case not as well equipped
and battle-hardened as Ethiopia’s—or any significant numbers
of others will materialize. David Shinn, a former ambassador to Ethiopia
and a lecturer at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies,
said, “I can’t imagine [Ugandan troops would] go in without
others going in, too.” There have been rumours that Nigeria and
Sudan were willing to send troops, he continued, but until now a peacekeeping
force “is still basically the figment of someone’s imagination.”
Last year, former UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan sent a letter to the Security Council noting that
Uganda and Sudan had become increasingly reluctant to send troops to
Somalia as the fighting there intensified and “in the absence
of a secure environment.”
A secure environment is the
last thing that Somalia offers to an invasion force. Kenya’s foreign
minister, Raphael Tuju, has warned, “Failure to act immediately
will lead to a vacuum that would certainly be exploited by the warlords
and other extremist forces.” Tuju is also lobbying for other countries
to send troops. Kenya has closed its borders to the estimated 30,000
recently displaced refugees from Somalia, but presently hosts 160,000.
The government has denied reports that 600 refugees, mainly women and
children, were deported from a border transit camp at Liboi in government
Because of these difficulties,
the US has endorsed calls by the EU and new UN Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon for the TFG to seek a political accommodation with “moderate”
Islamist forces. However interim President Yusuf rejected all such requests,
telling Al-Jazeera television that negotiations with Islamists “will
not happen . . . We will crack down on the terrorists in any place around
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