Friday, June 8, 2007


Katrina Vanden Heuvel observes at her Nation blog this week (The Somalia Strike 06/04/07):
Here's something that didn't come up at Sunday's Democratic debate: Under what authorization did President Bush order a military strike on Somalia this past Friday [June 1] - essentially widening the "war on terror"?

While the Dems argued about the best way to get out of this failed and disastrous war in Iraq, what Friday's military strike reveals is how our political system continues to evade the challenge of finding an exit from a misconceived "war on terror" - and the damage that "war" continues to inflict on our security and engagement with the world.
This isn't the first time the US has made direct strikes in Somalia recently. In fact, the Cheney-Bush administration is running a counterinsurgency effort with dubious prospects there, too, relying heavily on Ethiopian troops to support the current Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

CIA's World Factbook gives this summary of recent political history in Somalia:
The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has been deeply divided since just after its creation [in late 2004] and until late December 2006 controlled only the town of Baidoa. In June 2006, a loose coalition of clerics, business leaders, and Islamic court militias known as the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC) defeated powerful Mogadishu warlords and took control of the capital. The Courts continued to expand, spreading their influence throughout much of southern Somalia and threatening to overthrow the TFG in Baidoa. Ethiopian and TFG forces, concerned over suspected links between some SCIC factions and al-Qaida, in late December 2006 drove the SCIC from power, but the joint forces continue to fight remnants of SCIC militia in the southwestern corner of Somalia near the Kenyan border. The TFG, backed by Ethiopian forces, in late December 2006 moved into Mogadishu, but it continues to struggle to exert control over the capital and to prevent the reemergence of warlord rule that typified Mogadishu before the rise of the SCIC.
The "Courts" group is also known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).

Ethiopian enjoyed the cheers of American conservatives for a few days when they helped the TFG retake Mogadishu from the ICU. In their view of the world, this was a display of admirable "toughness". But see below for how things have progressed.

Jennifer Cooke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) writes on the
Fading Hopes for Somalia Crisis 06/04/07:
A brutal crackdown by Ethiopian and Somali government troops in early May has done little to end an incipient insurgency, and disaffected clan militias and remnants of the vanquished Islamic Courts Union (ICU) have resorted to increasingly guerrilla-like tactics, including suicide bombings and a series of remote-controlled car bombs detonated in the last several weeks.
She writes that the African Union peacekeeping forces there, currently actually 1,400 troops from Uganda, "has been largely ineffective." The TFG government is on shaky ground:
The TFG, which is internally divided and deeply unpopular in Mogadishu, has failed to take the necessary measures to broaden its support base and expand the governing coalition. A national reconciliation conference has been postponed twice and is now slated for June 15. Rather than seizing the opportunity early on in its tenure to reach out in a genuine way to disaffected groups and moderate remnants of the Islamic Courts Union, the TFG has instead chosen to rely on Ethiopian military force and the support of the international community to consolidate its position in Mogadishu. This is not a sustainable tack: Ethiopia will not remain in Mogadishu indefinitely: it is taking hits in Somalia, it has been accused by human rights groups of perpetrating war crimes, and it cannot long sustain a costly occupation given other domestic and regional security preoccupations. Further, having achieved its immediate objective of dispersing an increasing radicalized ICU leadership, it has much less compelling interest in the long hard slog of building Somali governing institutions or pushing the TFG to expand its base. (my emphasis)
You may remember earlier reports about US planes attacking Somalian villages, targeting "Al Qaida" targets that somehow they had pinpointed. Cooke writes:
Further, U.S. air strikes against fleeing ICU leaders and al Qaeda suspects in southern Somalia, with cooperation from Ethiopia, have led to the widespread perception (both in Somalia and Ethiopia) that the United States fully endorsed and supported the Ethiopian invasion and subsequent occupation. In January, the United States knowingly allowed Ethiopia to secretly purchase arms from North Korea in violation of UN sanctions that the U.S. had been instrumental in passing. Human rights groups have accused the United States of cooperating with Ethiopia, Kenya, and the TFG in a secret detention program for individuals fleeing Somalia, with U.S. intelligence agents interrogating detainees in Kenya, who were denied access to legal counsel and consular representatives. All these factors will make it difficult for the United States to disentangle itself, in perception and fact, from Ethiopian policy, which is a source of deep resentment among many Somalis. (my emphasis)
Somalia is one of those countries whose political situation does not easily fit into current US counterinsurgency doctrine. (This is a broader issue that military scholar Steven Metz takes up in a just-released monograph which I will be discussing here in an upcoming post.) The official government does not enjoy widespread legitimacy. The groups opposing the government include a variety of militias, some of whom may have little real interest in seizing control of the Somalian state. And the situation is further complicated by the government's reliance on unpopular foreign troops, in this case from the long-time rival nation of Ethiopia.

It doubtful whether United States involvement which identifies us with the TFG regime and its Ethiopian allies is a sensible approach. But then, we're talking about the Cheney-Bush administration here.


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