Somalia Journal, Day Fifteen: U.S. Playing Both Sides in Somalia Fight

04.12.07

Categorie: Accountability, Africa, Axe in Somalia, COIN |

“You Americans … ” His words were being translated by my fixer but his tone and body language needed no interpretation. Mahmoud Samo, owner of a small Mogadishu general store, was angry. Chanting a litany of woes – rising prices, runaway inflation, danger to himself, his staff and his customers – all caused by fighting between the occupying Ethiopian army and various insurgent groups, Samo insisted the Ethiopians never would’ve come without U.S. support. Therefore, he said, Mogadishu’s current troubles ultimately are America’s fault.

u1n-food-donations-at-dr-hawa-abdi-camp-outside-mogadishu-nov-23-2007small.jpgIt’s a sentiment I’ve heard echoed by many Somalis in the past couple weeks, in many cases expressed quite eloquently, and in English, by some of Mogadishu’s surviving educated class. Meanwhile everyday Somalis express their resentment towards America in more basic ways. When they see us, they stare. They whisper. They gather in clumps and move towards us. Some might grunt, “Gallo!” – Somali for “infidel.” Their neighborhood leaders step forward, demanding to know why we’re intruding … and demanding that we leave. It’s clear that their command has two meanings. They want the Gallo out of their ‘hood – and they want America to butt out of Somalia’s business.

Are they oversimplifying a complex situation? Probably. After all, a large portion of the food aid that keeps hundreds of thousands alive is donated by Washington. But Samo’s right to be critical of U.S. military policy in Somalia. The United States is playing both sides, supporting the army inciting much of the fighting AND the army with the best chance of bringing peace. The self-defeating strategy reflects deep confusion in Pentagon circles about how to handle Africa’s most tenacious conflict.

When 50,000 Ethiopians streamed over the border last December, they did so with U.S. logistics support, U.S. training and with U.S. warplanes flying overhead. America’s aim: to destroy a regime suspected of collaborating with Islamic terrorists. Using African armies as proxies to execute U.S. war aims is an express intent of the Pentagon’s new Africa Command, stood up in Germany in October. The Ethiopia-Somalia war, which kicked off before Africom was formally established, nonetheless represents an early test for the proxy concept.

ugandan-tank-presidential-palace-mogadishu-nov1-25-2007small.jpgProblem is, the Ethiopians aren’t the only army in Mogadishu getting U.S. support. The African Union peacekeeping force, so far all Ugandan, counts on U.S. training, cash (at least $40 million pledged early this year) and contractor logistics support courtesy of merc firm DynCorp. Due to their light touch and healthy relationship with the local populace, the peacekeepers represent Mogadishu’s best chance for security, assuming the additional troops from Burundi and Ghana promised for next year actually show up. But before the A.U. can expand into Mogadishu’s most violent neighborhoods, the Ethiopians have to withdraw, Ugandan officers told me. The two armies have separate aims, separate methods and entirely opposed attitudes about civilian casualties. But they have the same sponsor. Something’s got to give.

“Somalia defies the imagination in terms of complexity, with clans and sub-clans that dominate internal politics,” says Theresa Whelan, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs. “The solution in Somalia is not really military.”

True, but a credible and welcome military force – the A.U. – stands a chance at creating some space for the clans to talk. The Ethiopians are too busy shooting up Bakara Market to talk to anybody.

Related
Day One: “You Come to Africa, But You May Never Leave.”
Day Two: Barnstorming!
Day Three: Enclaves
Day Four: Everybody Parley Down!
Day Five: “I Quit!”
Day Six: ”We’re Here and We’re Surviving.”
Day Seven: Wise Old Children
Day Eight: Riot!
Day Nine: Gunfire Is Boring
Day Ten: Bombs Are Boring
Day Eleven: Games Kids Play
Day Twelve: This Cash Is Broke
Day Thirteen: Warlording 101
Day Fourteen: Arresting All the Wrong People
Somalia pics

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10 Responses to “Somalia Journal, Day Fifteen: U.S. Playing Both Sides in Somalia Fight”

  1. [...] David Axe keeps bringing the crazy in Mogadishu. He tells a neato story: While regular Somalia is a dirty basket case, Somaliland—the quasi-independent territory further north—is actually doing quite well, with its own quasi-institutions and working economy and no famine. That must be why the U.S. is considering switching sides in the conflict, and maybe supporting Somaliland as its own country, which no other country has done. Although, having this be all Pentagon-driven, which is what it appears, is bad news bears for the whole “civilians run the country” thing; no real surprise to fans of Dana Priest, in other words, but not really representative of a healthy vigorous man in the White House. If we do establish diplomatic relations with Somaliland let’s hope Blackwater gets properly compensated. I mean, those diplomats need the best in the biz shooting at innocent civilians, right? (Note: anyone seen the White Rabbit? The Interweb certainly hasn’t for well over a month… Must be hard to defend them when even their own government thinks they gun down innocent civilians.) [...]

  2. Both Islamic extremists and some Western politicians, eager to provoke a titanic conflict that each side believes it can win, are increasingly pushing the people of the Horn into extreme positions, undercutting the moderate middle, in order to fight a proxy war at the expense of the populations of Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. As in the Cold War, local people are being forced to choose sides in a fight that is really not their fight. The battle in the Horn of Africa, as it was in the Cold War, is primarily about justice, security, and governance, but the world will not leave the Horn alone.

    As the political arena is polarized by the efforts of outside forces to win through military means and social problems are intensified by the resultant chaos, individuals who might have become reformers become radicalized. As war eliminates the option of moderate reform, reformers turn into radicals and join sides with extremist outside forces, which, if nothing else, can at least offer money and weapons.

    The U.S. needs to examine conflict in Islamic societies with much finer resolution…to distinguish between Islamic extremists bent on violence against civilians and Islamic activists whose goal is domestic reform. These two groups agree that their societies have problems–at least in part created by contact with the West–that need to be resolved, but they do not necessarily agree on the methods or the end goal. Lumping these groups together not only creates a much more powerful opponent, it leaves the local population with little choice but to support the extremists.

    Your accounts of interactions with individual Somalis provide a valuable “down-to-earth” supplement to our understanding of this tragedy. I urge you to provide more details, if available. Many thanks for reporting on a story the American media usually ignores.

  3. [...] And I appreciate his efforts to clarify US involvement in the situation. He argues, “The United States is playing both sides, supporting the army inciting much of the fighting AND the army with the best chance of bringing peace.” That latter army is the fledgling AU force, which currently includes 1,800 Ugandan troops. Uganda and Ethiopia have been competing to be the US’s best friend in the Horn, and Axe notes that the Ugandan troops and trained and supported with US money and US-backed mercenaries, including DynCorp. [...]

  4. [...] One way the U.S. could help the Ugandans is to provide some of these specialized capabilities. But don’t count on it: U.S. Somalia policy is hopelessly confused. No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  5. [...] It’s sort of a shame that the mortars missed. Yusuf, a former warlord, is widely considered too old, too ailing and too out of touch to govern effectively. Perhaps dying isn’t the best way for him to leave office, but leave office he should. Somalia needs strong leadership to unite the warring clans, shrug off meddling foreign influence and begin reconciling with insurgents. No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  6. [...] Here’s why bombing won’t work: Somalis aren’t stupid. They know that the U.S. is behind the Ethiopian invasion. This, in part, drives the present insurgency. Bombing some town to kill a handful of suspected terrorists will only add fuel to the fire, deepening the very hatred that helps create the terrorists in the first place. Bombs are no longer a reasonable solution to Somalia’s problems. In fact, they only make the problems worse. No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  7. [...] Here’s why bombing won’t work: Somalis aren’t stupid. They know that the U.S. is behind the Ethiopian invasion. This, in part, drives the present insurgency. Bombing some town to kill a handful of suspected terrorists will only add fuel to the fire, deepening the very hatred that helps create the terrorists in the first place. Bombs are no longer a reasonable solution to Somalia’s problems. In fact, they only make the problems worse. On Monday we maybe killed a couple terrorists, and created a hundred more. [...]

  8. [...] Army trainers, a secret CIA airbase and Predator drones firing missiles at suspected extremists in Pakistan. Having learned our lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s latest military campaigns are all waged in secret and with proxy armies. Is this better than the alternative, an Iraq-style boots-on-the-ground occupation? Beats me. I just wish more Americans knew that we are now at war in Pakistan and Somalia, too. No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  9. [...] For the United States, that was the tipping point. But little evidence existed that the Courts’ rule would result in widespread, popular extremism. “Somalis in general show little interest in jihadi Islamism; most are deeply opposed,” is how the New York-based International Crisis Group assessed the situation. The U.S. government wasn’t taking any chances. After 14 years, the U.S. military turned its attention again to Somalia. [...]

  10. [...] This strategy puts China into quite a debacle, that makes one think of events happening in another Horn of Africa country. However, China is in a unique position to utilize its ties to the to pressure the Sudanese government to let in troops that UNAMID desperately needs. [...]

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