Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Somalia: The World's Forgotten Catastrophe Part 1

Steve Bloomfield had an article in the Independent back February, I'm going to use it as my introduction into the current disaster in Somalia. This is primarily part of my effort to learn about what's going on over there and how bad it is. Below is a summary of the article which I will begin to expand upon later. It's getting late, my expanding will have to be the next part.

Somalia: The World's Forgotten Catastrophe Summary

Somalia has been a failed state without any functioning central government since 1991 and had been torn apart by warlords with their clan-based militias. The U.S. had military and the U.N. had peacekeeping forces in Somalia back in 1993 until the Black Hawk Down incident occurred and they pulled out. That mission in which the incident occurred was to catch Mohammed Aideed, one of the biggest warlords in Somalia, and after it failed, Somalia descended back into anarchy. Already, thirteen separate attempts to build a new central government had failed and the newest attempt, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) started in Nairobi in 2004 and made up largely of Mogadishu warlords, has not exactly been a glowing success. The Islamic Courts, meanwhile, were created during the 1990's to provide some law and order to Mogadishu, with 11 across the city by 2006.

By 2006, the Union of Islamic Courts came to rule much of southern and central Somalia but was cast out of power because it had been deemed by the U.S., as Africa diplomat, Jendayi Frazer said, to be ruled by "East Africa al-Qa'ida cell individuals". The U.S. was claiming that the Union of Islamic Courts was harboring: Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who was suspected of being part of the 1998 embassy bombings; Abu Talha Al-Sudani, who was suspected of being part of a 2002 Mombasa bombing and a failed attack on an Israeli plane that was to occur at the same time; and Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, suspected of the same as Al-Sudani. A leader in the courts and former head of al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, was a suspected terrorist (article doesn't mention why) and Adan Hashi Ayro, who headed the Islamic courts military wing, al Shabaab, trained with bin Laden and was the de facto leader of East African al-Qa'ida. In their obsession with al-Qa'ida, the U.S. decided to work with the same warlords they had fought against back in 1993. The CIA came and bribed the very warlords who drove out the U.S. before to get the al-Qa'ida suspects. It failed, almost predictably, the warlords didn't put much effort into finding them and the courts ended up uniting their militias to rid Mogadishu of the warlords (I'm not sure if they were the "Union of Islamic Courts" yet or just Islamic courts before they defeated the warlords).

Relative peace came to Mogadishu once the courts took over, relative because there were still executions for adultery, a shooting at people watching the World Cup and assassinations of two foreigners. However, that was an improvement and women and children were in the streets so Somalis were willing to let the courts' overzealousness with social policies slide. The U.S. of course didn't like this one bit, even though Somalia is overwhelmingly Muslim, the situation was too Taliban-like for them. So, when the TFG set up shop after the warlords got kicked out of Mogadishu in Baidoa, the U.S., along with Ethiopia, got Abdullahi Yusuf, leader of TFG, to not negotiate when European diplomats tried to get TFG and the Union of Islamic Courts to work together. Ethiopia had troops stationed in Somalia since 2006 to train TFG forces and they were concerned about Somali support of rebel groups in Ogaden state of Ethiopia. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was more than concerned about threats of jihad against Ethiopia as well. Ethiopia had already gone to war twice with Ethiopia and went after Awey's al-Itihaad al-Islamiya in 1996. In October 2006, Jendayi Frazer reportedly told Abdullahi Yusuf that the U.S. would aid in struggle against the courts, so by November when US CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid met Zenawi, the invasion had already been decided upon despite Abizaid's misgivings.

The plan was that U.S. would provide satellite intel, Ethiopia would invade, install the TFG in power and then help with rounding up the American targets, al-Qa'ida members. The invasion was initiated on December 25 2006 and also included a plan to close up the Somali-Kenyan border and station U.S. Navy ships of the coast near by. The invasion was successful at first, the Union of Islamic Courts chairman, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, admitted defeated three days later and the militia scattered throughout Mogadishu. The U.S. carried out its first air strike in Somalia on January 7, 2007, two AC-130 helicopter gunships bombed the small fishing village of Ras Kamboni, which had become an al-Qa'ida camp. A special forces team was sent in to kill any survivors and determine who it was that was attacked.

Though declared a "success", "senior al-Qa'ida leadership" were not killed, only innocent people trying to get rid of mosquitoes. That's confirmed by locals, western diplomats and Nairobi aid officials. The plan to close up the border with Kenya was also a failure (I'm sensing a pattern), however and al Shabaab regrouped within weeks. Its leader, Adan Hashi Ayro, returned to Mogadishu and started to lead the insurgency which has led to the death of hundreds of civilians, injury to thousands more and daily violence in Mogadishu. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Abu Talha Al-Sudani are also believed to be alive despite American assertions to the contrary even after further U.S. airstrikes.

Like the Iraq plan, the Ethiopian invasion was supposed to achieve its goals quickly and pullout, but instead Ethiopia has had to put in more troops because the occupation has gone sour (there's that pattern again). Their October 2007 "surge" has increased their troop levels in Somalia from approximately 15,000 to 30,000 (Ethiopia won't say how many). The African Union (AU) was supposed to send 8000 troops, but only 1600 have arrived (nothing else about this in the article...). Ironically, the invasion and subsequent insurgency has lead to Adan Hashi Ayro to taking over the Islamic courts at the cost of Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, so that that they would become a jihadi organization. Aweys didn't get much more grandiose than for a uniting of a "Greater Somalia", but now the courts could be described as "East Africa's al-Qa'ida cell".

Now, the U.S. seems to be placing its bets on northern Somalia, specifically Somaliland and Puntland and funding their intelligence services. Somaliland declared independence in 1991 and Puntland became de facto autonomous in 1998. The intell Americans get from them isn't that great however because of support for the courts there and a lack of discernment on behalf of the U.S. Puntland was where the U.S. made an attack in June 2007 against suspected courts' leaders and was followed by denials about any attack and the hiring of contractors to rebuild the Bosasso in order "to land anything in Bosasso" (emphasis added). John Yates, the US special envoy to Somalia, actually admitted in 2007 that the Somali policy had been disaster and the insurgents were winning (I need to find out when that happened and if he was fired for saying that).

This is the worst period of violence that Somalia has had in twenty years, 600,000 fled Mogadishu last year and 200,000 are living in "squalid impromptu refugee camps" on a stretch of road outside the city. U.N. officials considers it the largest concentration of displaced person on Earth and is the worst humanitarian disaster in Africa, trumping Darfur. Political solutions are not promising. Moderates from the courts have gotten with disillusioned MPs of the TFG and others into the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia. However, it's set up in Ethiopia's sworn enemy, Eritrea, which has been accused of arming the courts and is threatened to be named a "state sponser of Terrorism". TFG divisions also make this difficult, President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi, never close, had a falling out $32 million from Saudi Arabia for a national reconciliation conference which Gedi kept for mostly for himself (a comment on Chris Floyd's blog mentions that there's actually more to this). Anyway, he got a deal to live in the U.S., a job at the University of California and he got to keep the money. (The article also has details of people living in the misery of present-day Somalia, the secrecy of America's war there and about the base in Djibouti)

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