US invasion of Somalia?

By Bill Van Auken:

Hijacking of US ship raises threat of intervention in Somalia

10 April 2009

As the hostage drama off the coast of Somalia continued into its second day Thursday, there were indications that the Obama administration may be preparing yet another military intervention, this time in the Horn of Africa.

The ongoing standoff between a small band of Somali pirates in a lifeboat and a US destroyer, which is being joined by other warships and planes, followed an unsuccessful attempt to hijack the 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama freighter, a US flag ship.

After four armed Somalis managed to scale the side of the ship and seize it, the 20-member crew put up resistance. According to reports, however, the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, volunteered to act as a hostage, going with the pirates on the ship’s enclosed lifeboat in order to prevent any clash between them and his crew.

Reached by Reuters via satellite phone, one of the pirates sounded desperate. “We are surrounded by warships and don’t have time to talk,” he said. “Please pray for us.”

The seizing of ships for ransom has been going on in the region for years and increased significantly in 2008, with the number of incidents off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden climbing to 150. There are 16 ships currently being held for ransom.

The shipping firms themselves have treated the attacks as a nuisance that barely dents their profits. They have preferred to treat paying off pirates as a cost of doing business rather than arm their crews against them. Though often heavily armed, the pirates have killed no one thus far.

What makes this latest incident different, however, is that the ship is the first American vessel to be attacked by the pirates. It therefore provides the pretext for a militarist intervention and provokes a wave of jingoism in the media, sections of which are braying for retaliation.

Gen. Petraeus Implements Military Surge Against Four Somali Pirates in a Lifeboat: here.

Update: here. And here.

Will Obama Prosecute the Captured Somali ‘Pirate’ in a US Court? Here.

The [Ten] Most Notorious Pirates Ever: here.

A PROMINENT conflict research group revealed on Tuesday that air-cargo carriers involved in arms smuggling in Africa are also being contracted for international aid supplies and peacekeeping operations: here.

Somalia update, June 2009: here.

Somali Torture Survivors Get Green Light to Sue in U.S.: here.

Children Carry Guns for a U.S. Ally, Somalia: here.

4 thoughts on “US invasion of Somalia?

  1. The East African (Nairobi)

    Somalia: U.S. Urged to Cut Lifeline to Struggling TFG

    Kevin J Kelly

    28 June 2010

    Nairobi — Opinion among American experts on Somalia appears to have turned decisively against continued US support for the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

    As an alternative, some analysts are urging the Obama administration to initiate dialogue with Al-Shabaab, the Islamist insurgency that controls much of Somalia.

    But key US policymakers still regard such a move as anathema because of Shabaab’s links to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qa’ida network, which is blamed for the attack on the United States in 2001.

    And despite their own frustrations with the TFG, the White House and the State Department do not seem ready to abandon the entity they regard as the only potentially viable US partner in Somalia.

    The United States has made a considerable investment in the TFG in the form of tonnes of weaponry, millions of dollars of aid, and help in training its army and police.

    Influential figures in the US Congress who have supported the TFG are meanwhile expressing dismay over reports that it has recruited thousands of child soldiers.

    The lawmakers note that the United States may in effect be supporting this practice through the assistance it has provided to the TFG’s military units.

    At the same time, there is little enthusiasm in Washington for Kenya’s call for the upgrading and expansion of the African Union military unit in Somalia (Amisom).

    A source in the US Congress says it is unlikely that either the Obama administration or the United Nations will consent to the proposal to transform Amisom into a larger UN-administered force.

    This source says the US has not been able to coax African states into supplying the 8,000 troops envisioned for Amisom, which currently consists of about 5,000 soldiers from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.

    And countries outside the continent have shown no interest in volunteering troops for UN military deployment in Somalia.

    Disdain for the TFG’s performance was sharply expressed at a recent session of the US House of Representatives’ Africa subcommittee.

    Ken Menkhaus, regarded as one of the foremost Somalia scholars in the United States, told the panel that continued support for the TFG will undermine US security.

    Backing for the TFG has had “the effect of prolonging political conditions within which a radical Islamist insurgency has thrived,” Prof Menkhaus said.

    There is a greater danger of terrorist attacks by Somalia-based militants today than in 2004 when the TFG was formed, he added.

    “It is very possible that at some point an Al-Shabaab cell could opt to launch a terrorist attack in Kenya or elsewhere,” Prof Menkhaus warned.

    Calling the TFG “a government on paper only,” he said it has “utterly failed” to broaden its ranks and to extend its writ beyond a few neighbourhoods in Mogadishu.

    “It has done nothing to improve the security of its citizens or provide them access to basic services,” Prof Menkhaus continued.

    “And it has not proven to be a useful partner for external states seeking to monitor and reduce the security threats emanating from Somalia.”

    Most of the thousands of TFG troops trained and armed through US assistance have deserted or defected to Al-Shabaab, he added.

    “The uncontrolled, predatory behaviour of the TFG’s police force against the civilian population has driven some Somalis to support Al-Shabaab out of fear and anger,” Prof Menkhaus said.

    “The corruption and extortion TFG officials have engaged in have deeply alienated the Somali business community, a potentially important source of political moderation and pragmatism in the country,” he said.

    Prof Menkhaus’ comments follow a report in March for the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential Washington-based NGO, that called for “constructive disengagement” from the TFG.

    The report’s author, Bronwyn Bruton, suggested that the Obama administration should accept Al-Shabaab rule in Somalia in exchange for guarantees that it will refrain from “both regional aggression and support for international jihad.

    Ted Dagne, a Somalia expert with the US Congressional Research Service, has suggested that the international community should consider engagement with Al-Shabaab.

    Prof Menkhaus took the same position at the recent Africa subcommittee hearing, saying “the US and other donor states should actively pursue a policy of diversification in Somalia, working pragmatically with whatever local authorities they identify on the ground who are relatively legitimate, powerful and accountable to their communities.”

    Many Islamist fighters could be weaned from the movement “if the US government is flexible and pragmatic enough to engage parts of Al-Shabaab in quiet dialogue,” Prof Menkhaus declared.

    The need for a more pragmatic US approach was also emphasised by Prof J Peter Pham, another Somalia expert who serves as senior vice-president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

    “If you want to engage the forces capable of co-operating, you will need to deal with Somaliland, Puntland and any other entity which emerged from the wreckage of the failed Somali state,” Prof Pham told The EastAfrican.


  2. Reinforcements spark protests

    Somalia: Demonstrators in four Islamist controlled towns on Wednesday protested against the recent decision by east African states to send more soldiers to prop up the UN-backed administration in Mogadishu.

    Six thousand African peacekeeping troops are deployed in Somalia and this week the East Africa Community trade bloc pledged 2,000 more.

    Leaders of the militant al-Shabab group called on Somalis to prepare for a holy war against the foreign troops.


  3. The Independent (Kampala)

    Uganda: Why Withdrawal of Troops From Somalia Is Reasonable for Now

    Brian Bwesigye

    19 July 2010

    July 11, 2010 will go down in the history books as the day Uganda was thrown into a somber mood mixed with shock, bitterness and panic.

    The twin bomb attacks did not only turn an otherwise merry night into a dark night of death and suffering but also raised concerns of the state of the nation’s security. The Al Shabaab, an armed extremist organization soon after claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks thus centering the debate on this shocking tragedy on Uganda’s role as a contributing state to AMISOM and the implications for its citizens.

    Al Shabaab has warned Uganda and Burundi that there will be reprisals in Kampala and Bujumbura if the two states do not withdraw their troops from AMISOM. AMISOM is an African Union Mission in Somalia with a United Nations (UN) mandate to protect the Somalia Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the shaky peace process in Somalia. Al shabaab, an extremist military organization with links to Al Qaeda controls a larger part of Somalia and perceives AMISOM as a belligerent thus has launched attacks against it and has warned that it will continue to attack the citizens of the contributing states to AMISOM. The AMISOM soldiers that are currently in Somalia are under-manned, under-equipped as the AU is incapable of logistically and financially managing the Mission which relies on funds from the United States of America (USA), the UN and the European Union (EU), among others.

    The hostile environment in which AMISOM is placed creates insecurity on the part of the troops who face the challenge of how to man a peacekeeping operation when there is no peace to keep. Al Shabaab has killed over 100 AMISOM soldiers and injured a larger number. AMISOM’s personnel face significant restrictions on their ability to operate as the UN-authorized mandate given to AMISOM does not provide sufficient protection to the troops, yet the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon insists that AMISOM remains without legitimate authority to use military force unless fired upon. Thus AMISOM troops only open fire when its soldiers can visually identify their attackers, and will only use weapons that allow for discriminate fire. Al shabaab fighters dress as civilians and use weapons that produce large numbers of casualties at once.

    AMISOM is thus a crippled mission that cannot defeat Al Shabaab as their mandate does not even allow them to fight Al Shabaab unless in self defense. Thus, as Al shabaab attacks Uganda for its deployment in Somalia through AMISOM, Uganda’s forces in Somalia to date have no mandate to fight Al Shabaab. This calls for a re-thinking of Uganda’s security and foreign policy on Somalia in a holistic manner. From the outpouring of emotion and reaction from the Ugandan public, two important opinions on what citizens want the country to do filter through. One, that Uganda should hunt down Al Shabaab so as to disable them and save the world from terrorist attacks. Another that I subscribe to, that Uganda should withdraw from AMISOM and beef up its national security.

    I take the latter view for two reasons; if we have no peace and security in Uganda, the citizens of the country have a right and duty to ask their state to withdraw its forces and maximize security efforts inside Uganda. We can contemplate a mission to hunt down Al Shabaab when we are assured of our own security.

    Further, AMISOM as it stands today has a limited mandate and is limited in resources, thus cannot achieve the aim we want our forces to achieve – hunt down Al shabaab. AMISOM as an AU-UN mandated peace-keeping force under chapter six of the UN charter has a limited mandate to protecting the Presidential palace, the Mogadishu airport and the small parts of Mogadishu under the TFG control. The UPDF presence within the AMISOM framework does not answer the needs of the Ugandan populace. When the population talks of wiping Al Shabaab from Somalia, they mean militarily defeating the outfit and ensuring that it is not capable of launching attacks anywhere, let alone Uganda.

    Thus, for Ugandan forces to remain in AMISOM does not help achieve the aims of the Ugandan public, thus the only viable option is withdrawal of the UPDF from AMISOM and then Uganda intensifies its national security in the short run. We can then later, in the long run as a member state of the UN, ask the UN Security Council for a mandate to use force and invade Somalia to hunt down Al Shabaab and bring peace and security not only to Somalia but to the whole region. This UN Charter chapter seven peace enforcement mission in Somalia that I am proposing would allow Uganda to launch offensives against Al Shabaab. That is what can serve Uganda’s ultimate interests of national security for citizens internally and lead to international peace and security. Otherwise, Uganda must withdraw troops in the short-run and consider a “legal” invasion in the long run.

    The writer works with the Advocates for Public International Law Uganda (APILU)


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