Who are the U.S. supporting in Somalia?

September 30, 2012 -Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has congratulated Somalia on its transition of government, speaking in Washington-”What has been accomplished has exceeded what many thought was possible. And it’s taken a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice, first and foremost from the people of Somalia,”Speaking at  the United Nations in New York September 26. “Now we have to help in the next phase for the people of Somalia, and we look forward, on behalf of the United States, to doing everything we can to make it a success.”

The secretary has outlined three key areas the US will continue its support in Somalia, Firstly, Security, “As more areas are liberated fromal-Shabaab, the government will need to establish police forces and courts,” Secondly the US will focus on stabilisation,  Clinton said- “more than 2 million people in Somalia still need lifesaving humanitarian assistance. Many more face hunger and malnutrition and can’t get basic services, such as clean water and adequate electricity. And the former combatants, who are defecting from al-Shabaab will need to be reintegrated into local communities.” Finally Clinton urged the new Somali government in reforming and constructing “a cabinet of people who will work to promote the interests of the Somali people and respond to their needs and maintain the confidence of international donors so future collaboration can continue.” Clinton emphasized the need to “So we look to the government to build transparent and accountable institutions.” I have a feeling those words may come back to haunt the Secretary of State.

So who exactly are the US supporting in the fight against the al-Shabaab militia that took over so much of Somalia? And who exactly are they looking at to form the western ideal of a “democratic” and “transparent” government. During the ongoing Civil War up until 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist organization including factions of al Qaida, assumed control of much of the southern part of the country and promptly imposed Shari’a law. The US’ main concern was in the Horn of Africa, particularly the region of Ras Kamboni The Transitional Federal Government sought to reestablish its authority, and, with the assistance of US backed Ethiopian troops, African Union peacekeepers and air support by the United States, succeeding in forcing out the rival ICU and solidified its rule. Since the 9/11 attacks the US had been keeping a close eye on the area to “observe, survey possible escape routes, possible sanctuaries”for al Qaida operatives, so the U.S. established the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) to monitor developments in the region and to train local militaries in counterterrorism. When Ethiopian troops entered the Somalian conflict in December 2006, a small number of U.S. special forces accompanied them to give military advice and to track suspected al-Qaida fighters. On January 7, 2007, the United States entered the conflict by launching airstrikes using an AC-130 gunship against suspected al-Qaida members operating within the ranks of the ICU. worldwide concern was raised after the strikes were reported to have killed civilians. Before this, various warlords and businesspeople had formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter Terrorism it also included ministers of the Transitional Federal Government. According to the International Crisis group the CIA were funneling $100,00 to $150,000 a month to the ARPCT to fight Islamist militias in throughout Somalia, but in the capital Mogadishu the plan backfired, ICU militias defeated the US backed ARCPT and took over the capital. Although relative peace and calm were instilled in Mogadishu and local support for the ICU was rising because of this, America could not allow the rise of an anti US Islamic government in the region and the CIA turned its attentions to the Ethiopian Army.

In a wikileaks cable release it was revealed the Bush administration pressured the Ethiopian government for action in Somalia, another fine example of the destruction of US military intervention was bound to ensue. President Zenawi was in the focus at the time for his increasing repression including mass arrests and reported mass killings of protesters and the jailing of nearly all opposition leaders. In 2006 a bill was put before US congress to cut aid to Zenawi.  During 2006 the CIA continued to fund secular warlords in an attempt to capture or kill a small number of al-Qaida militants. Even senior US officials seem to acknowledge the recklessness of this act, ”This has blown up in our face, frankly,” said John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group(ICG), who was a Clinton Administration official in the State Department and National Security Council. The consensus being that this funding only increased the violence and retaliatory attacks by ICU militias.

A US sergeant, speaks through an interpreter while teaching basic infantry tactics to Ethiopian soldiers in the field at Hurso.

Some officials within US government were ardently against the tactics of employing warlords, but others felt it necessary in avoiding putting US troops on the ground. Michael Zorick, who had been based in Nairobi, was reassigned to Chad after he criticized, inside the government, Washington’s policy of paying Somali warlords. In aJeremy Scahill article on the CIA in Somalia he describes seeing the current CIA base of operations in Somalia located in Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport. In the report he states “the facility looks like a small gated community, with more than a dozen buildings behind large protective walls and secured by guard towers at each of its four corners…At the facility, the CIA runs a counterterrorism training program for Somali intelligence agents and operatives aimed at building an indigenous strike force capable of snatch operations and targeted “combat” operations against members of Al Shabaab.” Drone strikes have since reportedly started inside of Somalia, operating from the US base in Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti.

Somalia is left at another political crossroads, with the public seemingly nowhere in sight. America have actively sponsored warlords to seek out and kill al-Qaida elements, more recently they have bank rolled the Ethiopian army to attack and invade Somalia and remove the ICU. As the ICU gained power and political support the US backed a three-year invasion by Ethiopia, with the aim of instilling a more US friendly government, regardless of what the Somali population wanted. The aftermath was crushing, a reported 20,000 deaths, and up to two million people being made homeless, the invading 50,000 strong army met fierce resistance and soon withdrew, resulting in a power vacuum in which the more moderate Islamist groups were replaced with more militant groups with an open anti-US agenda.

Despite the three-year US backed war in Somalia, the extremist group al-Shabaab which is linked to al-Qaida had taken control of more territory than the central government itself up to 2010. US-backed forces’ brutality had turned many Somalis away from the US, allowing radical, anti-government forces to step into the void, which led to more conflict with the central government. Somalia became a hotbed of violence and retaliatory attacks, with little to no authority or governance. In the areas that al Shabaab still rule, large AMISOM forces have been deployed to flush them out, again leaving the fear that militias will infiltrate power vacuums. The last remaining stronghold of al-Shabaab, Kismayo is currently under concerted attack from AMISOM forces and would be a significant victory for the US, al-Shabaab are currently holding on, and it will be far from mission accomplished once AMISOM forces take over, the bombings of cities and killing of civilians has resulted in widespread ill feeling towards the “liberating army”.


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