Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Experts warn US air raids in Somalia may be inefficient, harmful

PARIS (AFP), by Michel Moutot Sun Jan 28.

US air raids in Somalia to flush out suspect Al-Qaeda operatives may be ineffective in fighting terrorism and risk making the country's Muslim population more radical, regional experts warn.

An AC-130 gunship drops flares during a training mission.  US air raids in Somalia to flush out suspect Al-Qaeda operatives may be ineffective in fighting terrorism and risk making the country's Muslim population more radical, regional experts warn.(AFP/DoD/File) US military forces have carried out several attacks on Islamist targets or suspected members of Al-Qaeda since the start of the month, but Washington has admitted it is "doubtful" that "any of the big guys", sought for attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, were hit. . . .

"Somalia's tribal system is very strict," warned French Africa expert Roland Marchal from the Paris-based Center for International Studies and Research. "If anyone gets hurt in your tribe, either you accept the price for the bloodshed or you kill the assailant.". . . .

Karin von Hippel, a former UN mission member in Somalia, sees sketchy intelligence as one of the key problems in the air raids. "I'm very concerned about these air strikes," said Hippel who works for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "I don't think the intelligence they're acting on is very good.". . . .

Hippel, who is regularly consulted by US authorities, said she was told during these meetings, "We have to build as many schools as we kill terrorists," but added, "They don't do that."

"You talk to CIA people, they tell you that of course they perfectly understand that, and then they just go on killing people, so... I don't understand why the rhetoric is not matched by reality."

"These air raids can only make the Islamic Tribunals (militia) more palatable for the people," regretted Francois Grignon, Africa programme director of the International Crisis Group (ICG). "Collateral damage provokes hatred and fury among people who suffer from it, all the more so as the Americans have so far not given any proof of their victory: no terrorist leader has apparently been wiped out.". . . .

"The aim seems to be to score at home: to show that they do not hesitate to use a big stick," Grignon added.

To read the complete AFP story by Michel Moutot, click here. Read more!

Somali Islamists threaten AU peacekeepers

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - A Somali Islamist group threatened on Tuesday to fight any peacekeeping troops sent to their country as African leaders struggled to put together an international force for the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.

The European Union released 15 million euros ($19 million) to finance peacekeeping operations, but leaders at an African Union summit were still seeking the 4,000 troops they need to bring the projected force up to strength.

A total of 8,000 troops are seen as necessary to fill a power vacuum when Ethiopian troops pull out after having backed the government in a brief war that defeated the Islamists who had run much of the country for the previous six months.

"If African troops are not in place quickly, then there will be chaos," African Union commission chief Alpha Oumar Konare told the summit.

Delegates to the summit in Addis Ababa said Ghana, Algeria, Tanzania and Zambia were considering whether to provide troops but final pledges might not be made at the talks. So far Uganda, Nigeria and Malawi have promised soldiers.

As the African leaders deliberated, a Somali Islamist Web site posted a message apparently from a new insurgent group which spelled out the dangers awaiting any peacekeeping force.

"Somalia is not a place where you can come to earn a salary -- it is a place where you can die," said the self-styled Popular Resistance Movement.

"The salary you are coming to look for here would be used to transport your coffin back home.". . . .

To read the full story, click here. Read more!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Ambassador promises U.S. will stay the course in Somalia

My good friend Bashir has drawn my attention to an extraordinarily straightforward interview with the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneburger, carried recently by ShabelleNet from Mogadishu. According to the ambassador, U.S. policy toward Somalia consists of just three goals:

  1. Help the Somali people establish security;
  2. Help them establish stability, law, and order with peace; and,
  3. Help them get the humanitarian assistance they need.

Asked whether the U.S. will be involved militarily in Somalia (to take up the slack after the after the Ethiopians leave), our ambassador solemnly promised that "the United States is going to be involved for [a] very long time. This is not something where we are going in very quickly and will then leave. We are coming in to stay."

Was the U.S. was encouraging dialogue between the transitional government and the Islamic Courts? Amb. Ranneburger pointed out that, "of course the Islamic Courts no longer exists as an institution, but . . . any Somali who renounces violence and extremism and terrorism should have a role to play in the future of their country, and this will include individual members of the Islamic Courts if they are moderate people who as I say renounces violence, extremism and terrorism."

Does the U.S. have evidence that terrorists involved in the Nairobi embassy bombings were present in Somalia? The ambassador is emphatic:

There is no question about it. The evidence is clear and it is absolutely certain. At least three of the individuals responsible for the bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi and Daressalam in 1998 were taking refuge within Somalia. Those three people were Fazul, Napal, and al-Sudani. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. There is also no doubt whatsoever that the Islamic Courts knew they were there and this is something that the Somali people need to know. These three people are individuals are associated with al-Qaeda.

But more importantly, there were a large number of foreign fighters and foreign jihadists and other people associated with al-Qaeda, who were there active in support of the Islamic Courts. I can tell you with great certainty that the influence of al-Qaeda people was growing within the Islamic Courts and posed a major threat to the people of Somalia.

You can read a transcript of most of the interview at the ShabelleNet website.
Better yet, listen to the audio of the entire interview here.

Bashir's own comments:

Please note that the ambassador mentions terrorism, terrorists etc. but since the fall of the Islamic Courts it is rather obvious the previous UN/US reports of presence of Eritrean troops 2000 strong, several hundred foreign fighters, Al qaeda etc. have turned out to be false. In fact the few "foreigners" so far arrested in Somalia were Canadian-Somalis and some Tabliq (Islamic version of Jehovah Witness or Mormon in their traveling preaching style) . . . .

Also the ambassador is asking the classic question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" of Sheikh Sharif, the Islamic courts, and specifically the Ayr subclan in demanding that they first renounce violence, terrorism etc. before they can be allowed to participate in the politics of the country i.e. they have to first announce that they have engaged in unacceptable violence and terrorism and that they will now stop that. If defending one's country from the invasion of a foreign foe is considered radical and extremism I wonder how many founding fathers and heroic Presidents will join the ranks of extremists? Read more!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"You break it, you own it!"

Bashir drew my attention this evening to an excellent piece of analysis published in today's Guardian by one of this country's few scholarly experts on Somalia, Dr. Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College in North Carolina. Bashir commented that Prof. Menkhaus "raises the issue of the US getting rid of the courts and the stability they brought and leaving the chaos to the Ethiopians and the TFG."

As always, Menkhaus makes some solid points:

Thanks to the Ethiopian intervention, the jihadist wing of the UIC is at least temporarily on the run. But Mogadishu is again ungoverned and growing more lawless by the day.

Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is now expected to assume administrative control of Mogadishu, a city of one million hostile, fearful, and well-armed people. But the TFG is weak and intensely disliked by most Mogadishu constituencies. It is in no position to govern absent a partnership forged with the Mogadishu leadership, and will not even be able to remain in the capital without the continued presence of Ethiopian forces.

However, Bashir wonders whether Prof. Menkhaus hasn't let the U.S. off the hook, given this country's evident complicity in breaking the Somali pottery. "I have not heard [U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa] Jendayi [Frazer] talking about Somalia lately because for her it is mission accomplished. Jendayi is in the proverbial Somali situation of a man having just convinced a passerby (in this case Meles) to hold the lion (somalia) for him by the ears while he secures his macawiis or sarong and then departs from the scene. Meles is frantically looking for the AU troops but his American friends have gone AWOL on him."

Bashir makes a valid point himself! Read more!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Oxfam reports 70 nomads killed in Somalia bombings

According to the international relief agency Oxfam, based in Nairobi, its partner organizations in Somalia report that recent bombing raids have claimed the lives of at least 70 people. Reports indicate that bombs have hit vital water sources as well as large groups of nomads and their animals who had gathered around large fires at night to ward off mosquitoes.

PLEASE COMMENT! Do you have information about casualties or collateral damage resulting from last week's military action in southern Somalia? If so, please share your information or link by clicking here. Read more!

Conflict expert warns of intervention's broader impact

Nii Akuetteh is Executive Director of Africa Action and founder of the Democracy and Conflict Research Institute, based in Accra, Ghana. At a press panel January 9 organized by the Somali Diaspora Network at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., Dr. Akuetteh warned of the destabilizing effect the US-backed Ethiopian intervention in Somalia could have throughout the region. Citing the growing human tragedy in Darfur, he said "we have bigger fish to fry" in Africa than taking sides in another country's internal quarrels.

Akuetteh expressed similar concerns in a December 28 radio discussion hosted by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! Radio, where Prof. Said Sheikh Samatar of Rutgers University was also a panelist. Here are excerpts from Dr. Akuetteh's earlier remarks:

. . . [As] you know, a few weeks ago, the US pushed for a resolution in the Security Council that called for a peacekeeping troops in Somalia. And it was stipulated that none of the major regional powers that share borders with Somalia, should have troops in there. And we are talking especially about Kenya and Ethiopia.

Now, if Ethiopia had stepped in against those wishes, one has to imagine what the other powers in the region will be thinking. I do think that it is a major mistake for the United States to be encouraging Ethiopia to step in, in such a heavy-handed way. It is not a sustainable solution because as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said, they have a mission, when they're done with their mission they’ll withdraw.

Let’s say they’ll withdraw in several weeks, what happens then to the transitional government? So this is not a sustainable solution either by the Ethiopians or by the Untied States. And I might say that this is just the latest in our view of a long series of blunders by American policy in the region, going all the way back to the support of Siad Barre during the Ogaden wars in the 1970's.

You can read the full transcript of the earlier discussion, including the dissenting views of Professor Samatar, at the Democracy Now! website (click here). Read more!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Somali Jihadist: "We're Not Al-Qaeda"

The following lead (courtesy of Bashir) introduces a most interesting interview with a Somali militia member, published yesterday on the website of TIME Magazine:

Said Ali, 21, is a volunteer fighter for the Shabab militia, the feared enforcers of the Islamic Courts Union. The U.S. brands the organization as an ally of al-Qaeda; in reality, it is also a nationalist anti-warlord movement that contains many Muslim moderates and has no international ambitions. He was 11 when he left his village in southern Somalia and traveled to Mogadishu to look for an education. But all public education had collapsed with the last functioning government in 1991, leaving private school the only option. And Said Ali, like most of his generation, was unable to afford the fees. Instead, he found a job as a porter, and then graduated to selling shirts and kikoi wraps by the side of the road. In time, he was given a job inside a clothes store in Bakara Market, where he earned about 10,000 Somali shillings (80 cents) a day. But often he would be forced to hand over his earnings to armed militias blocking the roads on his way home. He came out of hiding in central Mogadishu to meet TIME's Alex Perry. . . .*
Read the full interview on TIME's website (click here).
*Photo above, by Abukar Albadri (EPA), shows fighters loyal to the Islamic Courts Union loading up on trucks to head to the front in December 2006.
NOTE: Be sure to read Joseph Peter's probing comment on this posting. (CLICK HERE)

Read more!

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Somali physician calls on leaders in Diaspora to return home and work for reconciliation

On the Hiiraan Online website, Dr. Abdishakur Jowhar, a Somali physician living in Toronto, predicts that Ethiopia's intervention in Somalia will result in a war of insurgency that will only please al Qaeda while making "sacrificial lambs" of both Ethiopian and Somali youths. Somalis should not wait on anyone else to head off this tragedy, he argues. Rather, Somali leaders in the diaspora must seize the opportunity to return home and work for national reconciliation.

Some quotes (but please take the trouble to read the whole article):

"Somalia’s Diaspora leadership has a rare opportunity to make a difference. They have gone out far and wide to over to 15 different foreign countries in artificially baked dead-end Somali reconciliation conferences. Now they need to go to the one place where they have a reasonable chance at long last of making a real difference for Somalis- Somalia. These reconciliation professionals need to go to Mogadishu. They need go to Baidoba. And they need to do so now.

"The situation is ripe for Somalis to reconcile by themselves, in their own country with the help of their own people. No more Yemenis. No more Sudanese. No more Kenyans, Libyans, Egyptians. No more IGAD nonsense. No more holding Somali “unity” conferences in posh hotels. Few brave good Somalis are needed now to provide a face saving formula for both Zenawi and Aweys and to provide some space for rational dialogue for Somalis every where."
Read more!

Kenya to expel Somali leaders

Drawing my attention to a report from Nairobi in today's "Sunday Standard," a Somali friend suggests that the U.S. may be pressing the Kenyan government to turn the screws on Somali opponents of transitional president Abdullahi Yusuf. My own reading of the report deepens my concern, since the report coincides with a meeting in Nairobi of the so-called Contact Group on Somalia and suggests that the U.S. member of that group, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer (shown above), is winning closer cooperation from the Kenyans in support of U.S. policy toward Somalia. Kenyan authorities are screening refugee flows from Somalia, detaining those who may have been supporters of the Islamist movement, and cautioning others who might use Kenyan asylum as a platform for criticizing Somalia's fragile transitional government. What will become of those detained in Kenya is anyone's guess; but it's clear they will not be allowed, in the Foreign Minister's words, to "subvert peace efforts" in Somalia.
Read more!

Thursday, January 4, 2007

State Department spin on Somalia news

The previous posting referred to difficulties at least one Italian journalist has had getting a balanced perspective on Somalia published in Italy. The New York Times ran a piece on December 26 reporting on our own government's efforts to slant news about Ethiopia's offensive in Somalia against Somali Islamists and in favor of the invaders. "The Department's internal guidance to staff members," said the Times, "instructed officials to play down the invasion in public statements." Some quotes from the Department's guidance:

"The press must not be allowed to make this about Ethiopia, or Ethiopia violating the territorial integrity of Somalia. . . .

"Emphasize that this is a distraction from the issue of dialogue between the [transitional federal government] and the Islamic courts and shift the focus back to the need for dialogue."
Be sure to read this enlightening article in its entirety (click here or on the title of the posting, above).
Read more!

Journalistic balance on Somalia situation suffers setback in Italy

Please take a look at the comment left by an Italian journalist who dared to offer her readers a balanced view of Ethiopia's intervention in Somalia (click here -- you'll find it at the end of my posting "Questions from a close friend"). A bit disheartening, to say the least. Read more!

Background on the U.S. "war" on terrorism in Somalia

A Somali-American friend has just brought the following article to my attention. Published six months ago in the Washington Post, it sheds light on how the U.S. got itself in the ludicrous position of backing Somalia's tyrant warlords against the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).

Black Eye in Somalia
By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 2, 2006; A22
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The land was little more than a patch of scrub outside the city. But this being Somalia -- lawless, fractured and armed to the teeth -- it was a patch of scrub that two of the country's most powerful families were prepared to fight over.
The fighting, which began Jan. 13, quickly took on wider significance because of the presence, at an airstrip just three miles away, of a small team of U.S. intelligence officials, according to Somalis knowledgeable about the events of that day.
The Americans were in Somalia because of concerns about terrorism, not land. But when the gunfire rang out, the sources said, the U.S. officials wrongly concluded that they were under attack by Islamic terrorists and abruptly fled. It was a provocation, U.S. officials later told Somalis, that demanded a muscular response.
In the weeks that followed this little-known incident, which U.S. officials have refused to confirm or deny, the United States expanded its role in Somalia to levels not seen since it abandoned the country in 1994. The Americans helped organize a group of secular warlords into an "anti-terror coalition" and provided them with a large, steady diet of cash.
The warlords, feared and hated by many Somalis, bragged about the money as they armed themselves as never before.
The infusion of cash upset a fragile balance between the two sides -- but not in the direction the Americans had hoped.
By March, the warlords were under siege. By June 6, they had fled. And by June 24, Hassan Dahir Aweys, a militant Islamic leader hostile to Western democracy and reputed to have ties to al-Qaeda, had taken control of Mogadishu. Late last week, Osama bin Laden boasted of successes there in an audiotape that singled out Somalia as a front in his war against Americans.
"Simply, they made a mistake," Ali Iman Sharmarke, a prominent Mogadishu businessman and radio journalist, said of the Americans in an interview in Nairobi. "If their intent was to capture terrorists, they needed a wider approach . . . to help the people of Somalia."
American analysts, though not knowledgeable about the incident at the airstrip, said that by giving cash to the warlords the United States triggered events that quickly moved beyond its control, producing a setback likely to hurt not only Somalis but also the U.S. war on terrorism.
"U.S. support for the warlords hit Mogadishu like a stick in the hornet's nest," said John Prendergast, an Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group, a research organization, speaking recently from Chad, where he was traveling. "It was totally the law of unintended consequences in the extreme."
The accounts in this article are based on interviews with Somali business leaders, politicians, civil society activists and members of one of the families involved in the January fight.
The protagonists in the initial dispute were political and military rivals, both fromMogadishu's elite Abgal sub-clan.
Abukar Omar Adan was a devoutly Islamic and heavily armed clan elder with ties to the strict neighborhood religious courts that had brought a semblance of order to a city without a government.
His rival, Bashir Raghe, was a brash, younger man who had been a waste contractor with the U.S. military forces in Mogadishu before the United States pulled out.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, Raghe became one of America's foremost allies in Somalia, receiving payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars for capturing and turning over terrorism suspects to U.S. officials, Somalis say.
Raghe strode through Mogadishu wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses on his head and a pistol strapped to each hip. And in the months leading up to the fighting in Mogadishu, he was seen using crisp, new $100 bills to buy machine guns and heavily armed pickup trucks.
In addition to his alliance with the Americans, Raghe had other strategic assets: He controlled Esaly Airport, a seaside strip of packed sand north of Mogadishu, and, at least nominally, the road leading there from the city.
The trouble began late last year when Adan paid $30,000 for land that straddled the airport road, intending to build a development including homes and warehouses.
Fearing the loss of control over lucrative airport traffic, Raghe objected, according to Adan's brother and son. After several verbal confrontations, the two sides began fighting in the open Jan. 13, moments after the U.S. intelligence officials -- most accounts put the number at four -- had landed at Esaly.
A few miles away, fleets of trucks mounted with machine guns exchanged fire. By the end of a battle lasting nearly six hours, Raghe's forces had killed seven of Adan's men and captured the land and four of his gun trucks -- a source of enduring frustration to Adan in a city where clout was measured mainly in terms of firepower.
Adan's son, Abdulkadir Abukar, 30, a key adviser to his father, said by phone that his family had no idea that Americans were nearby during the battle. But through the Abgal sub-clan's system of rapidly shared information, it soon became known.
Fearing a reaction by the Americans, Abukar and his uncle traveled to Nairobi, the region's business and diplomatic hub, to reassure U.S. officials that the gunfight was only about land. Abukar and his uncle also requested that their four captured gun trucks be returned.
But over the next several weeks, in numerous discussions in person and on the phone, U.S.officials accused Abukar and his family of being terrorists, he said. "They said, 'You were ready to kill us.' . . . They said, 'Your file will be put in Washington, and you will be recorded as a terrorist group.' "
Two other Somalis with direct knowledge of the meetings gave similar accounts. A third Somali, speaking on condition of anonymity, recounted a separate but similar conversation with a U.S. intelligence official who said of the officers at the airstrip on Jan. 13: "They were ambushed. This was a terrorist who was trying to kill American officers."
Back in Mogadishu, the fight was seen differently -- as a sign of growing belligerence by the United States and the warlords it backed.
In the months leading up to the battle, Somalis say, officials of the Islamic courts had grown increasingly nervous as they watched Raghe and other suddenly flush warlords add men, guns and trucks to their arsenal. Surging demand caused the price of AK-47 assault rifles at Mogadishu's main market to more than quadruple, from $120 to $580. The price of gunmen went from $70 a month to $300, Somalis say.
"All of a sudden they were buying weapons," said Khadija O. Ali, founder of a Mogadishuwomen's group and a graduate student at George Mason University, speaking in Nairobi. "All of the sudden there were planes coming and the Americans were meeting only with" the warlords.
Anti-Americanism, stoked by the war in Iraq, intensified as supporters of the Islamic courts spread word that the United States was backing the warlords, whom many residents of Mogadishu say operated with impunity as their gunmen terrorized the lawless city, raping, robbing and killing as they pleased.
Public opinion gradually coalesced in favor of the Islamic courts and their militias, Somalis say. Prominent businessmen contributed men, trucks and guns to the cause of driving out the warlords. And so on Feb. 18, when Raghe and several other warlords announced the formation of an "anti-terrorism coalition" -- featuring the backing of even more American money -- the reaction was swift. Battles broke out the same day in a struggle now seen as being between homegrown Islamic militias and a hated U.S. proxy force.
A month later, on the morning of March 22, Adan's forces -- backed now by the Islamic militias -- attacked Raghe's position at the disputed land. This time, despite the enhanced support of the U.S. government for the warlords, Raghe was routed in fighting that left dozens of his men dead.
The battles between Adan and Raghe were viewed in Mogadishu as the crucial first fights between Islamic militias and secular, U.S.-backed warlords.
By the time the fighting ended in early June, more than 300 Somalis had been killed. Aweys, long a target of U.S. counterterrorism efforts, now heads the Islamic militias that rule Mogadishu.
The U.S. effort failed, Somalis said, because it focused only on seizing terrorism suspects, not attempting to improve living conditions in one of the world's poorest countries.
"It will radicalize the people," said Ali, a naturalized U.S. citizen. "Unless I am also safe, you are not going to be safe. That's the message the Americans must learn. They cannot fight this alone."
Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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