More Blood For Oil
[Ethiopia and Somalia]
by Carl Bloise, Black Commentator
www.zmag.org, January 16, 2007
Forget about all that stuff about Ethiopia
having a 'tacit' o.k. from Washington to invade Somalia. The decision
was made at the White House and the attack had military support
from the Pentagon. The governments are too much in sync and the
Ethiopians too dependent on the U.S. to think otherwise.
And, it didn't just suddenly happen. Ethiopian troops, trained
and equipped by the U.S. began infiltrating into Somali territory
last summer as part of a plan that began to evolve the previous
June when the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) took control of the
government. In November, the head of the U.S. Central Command,
General John Abizaid (until last week he ran the U.S. military
operations in Afghanistan and Iraq) was in Addis Ababa. After
that, Ghanaian journalist Cameron Duodu has written, Ethiopia
'moved from proving the Somali government with 'military advice'
to open armed intervention.'
And not without help. U.S Supplied satellite surveillance data
aided in the bombardment of the Somali capital, Mogadishu and
pinpointing the location of UIC forces resulting, in the words
of New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman, in 'a string of
back-to- back military loses in which more than 1,000 fighters,
mostly teenage boys, were quickly mowed down by the better-trained
and equipped Ethiopian-backed forces.'
As with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the immediate question is why
was this proxy attack undertaken, in clear violation of international
law and the UN Charter? And again, there is the official line,
the excuse and the underlying impetus. The official line from
Addis Ababa is that it was a defensive act in the face of a threat
of attack from Somalia. There's nothing to support the claim and
a lot of evidence to the contrary. As far as the Bush Administration
is concerned, it was a chance to strike back at 'Islamists' as
part of the on-going 'war on terror.' For progressive observers
in the region and much of the media outside the U.S., the conflict
smells of petroleum.
'As with Iraq in 2003, the United States has cast this as a war
to curtail terrorism, but its real goal is to obtain a direct
foothold in a highly strategic region by establishing a client
regime there.,' wrote Salim Lone, spokesperson for the United
Nation mission in Iraq in 2003, and now a columnist for The Daily
Nation in Kenya. 'The Horn of Africa is newly oil-rich, and lies
just miles from Saudi Arabia, overlooking the daily passage of
large numbers of oil tankers and warships through the Red Sea.'
In a television interview broadcast on the day of the full-fledged
Ethiopian assault, Marine General James Jones (who ironically,
like Abizaid, recently lost his position), then-Nato's military
commander and head of the US military's European army, expressed
his concern that the size of the U.S. army in Europe had 'perhaps
gone too low.' Jones went on to tell the CSpan interviewer the
US needed troops in Europe partly so that they could be quickly
deployed in trouble-spots in Africa and elsewhere.
'I think the emergence of Africa as a strategic reality is inevitable
and we're going to need forward-based troops, special operations,
marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors to be in the right proportion,'
'Pentagon to train sharper eye on Africa,' read the headline over
a January 5 report by Richard Whittle in the Christian Science
Monitor. 'Strife, oil, and Al Qaeda are leading the US to create
a new Africa Command.'
'Africa, long beset by war, famine, disease, and ethnic tensions,
has generally taken a backseat in Pentagon planning - but US officials
say that is about to change,' wrote Whittle, who went on to report
that one of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's last acts
before being dismissed from that position was to convince President
Bush to create a new Africa military Africa command, something
the White House is expected to announce later this year. The creation
of the new body, he quoted one expert as saying, reflects the
Administration concern about 'Al Qaeda's known presence in Africa,'
China's developing relations with the continent with regards to
oil supplies and the fact that 'Islamists took over Somalia last
June and ruled until this week, when Ethiopian troops drove them
out of power.'
Currently, the US gets about 10 percent of its oil from Africa,
but, the Monitor story said but 'some experts say it may need
to rely on the continent for as much as 25 percent by 2010.' Reportedly,
nearly two-thirds of Somalia's oil fields were allocated to the
U.S. oil companies Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips before
Somalia's pro-U.S. President Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown
in January, 1991.
Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman, said the division
for African military operations "causes some difficulty in
trying to ... execute a more streamlined and comprehensive strategy
when it comes to Africa." According to the plan, the Central
Command will retain responsibility for the Horn of Africa for
about 18 months while the Africa Command gets set up. The Pentagon's
present Horn of Africa joint task force, headquartered in Djibouti,
includes about 1,500 troops.
African countries won't see much difference in the US military
presence on the ground under the new command, Herman Cohen, assistant
secretary of State for African affairs under the first President
Bush, is quoted as saying. "They're already getting a lot
of attention from the US military.' The Defense Intelligence Agency
"has built up its offices throughout Africa in US embassies.
Right after the cold war, they reduced a lot, but they've built
"When the Cold War ended, so too did the interest of the
USA in Africa...for a while. Particularly following September
11, 2001, the interest of the Bush administration in Africa increased
several fold,' says Bill Fletcher, Jr., visiting professor at
Brooklyn College-CUNY, former president of TransAfrica Forum.
'Their interest was, first, in direct relationship to the amount
of oil in the ground. Second, it was in relationship to a country's
attitude toward the so- called "war against terrorism."
Irrespective of the character of a regime, if they were prepared
to provide the USA with oil and/or support the war against terrorism,
the USA would turn a blind eye toward any practices going on.'
"The second piece of this puzzle, however, is that the new
interest in Africa was accompanied by a new military approach
toward Africa,' says Fletcher. 'This included both the development
of the so-called Trans Sahel project, which supposedly concerns
training countries to fight terrorism, as well as the deployment
of military bases and personnel to Africa. Specifically, and beginning
around the time of the initiation of the Iraq war, US military
planners began discussing relocating US forces from Europe into
Africa, and specifically into the Gulf of Guinea region, a region
rich in oil reserves.
"It is clear, once again, that in all of this, the character
of any regime is secondary to the regime's compliance with the
interests of the Bush administration and their economic/strategic
priorities. The net effect of this could be the introduction of
US military personnel into extremely complicated internal struggles
not only in the Gulf of Guinea region, but in other locations,
e.g., Somalia, allegedly in the interest of fighting terrorism
and protecting strategic oil reserves."
Describing the Trans Sahel project, which covers a swath of North
Africa, Foreign Policy in Focus commentator Conn Hallinan wrote
recently, 'The Bush Administration claims the target of this program,
called the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative is the growing
presence of al-Qaeda influenced organizations in the region. Critics,
however, charge that the enterprise has more to do with oil than
with Osama bin Laden, and that stepped up military aid to Morocco,
Algeria and Tunisia will most likely end up being used against
internal opposition groups in those countries, not 'terrorists'
hiding out in the desert.'
An apt example of how the charge of terrorism becomes cover for
suppression of local democratic or leftist dissent is Nigeria.
A major focus of U.S. oil interest is in that country and the
Gulf of Guinea region. There, activists reflecting popular demand
for retaining more oil revenues for local development and an end
to environmental chaos, have been labeled 'terrorist' and are
being brutally suppressed by a U.S. trained and equipped military.
Southern Africa scholar George Wright observes that the development
of military ties to government and 'rebel' groups in Africa, in
pursuit of U.S. geo-strategic objectives, is long standing but
has accelerating over recent years. Between 1990 and 2000, military
arrangements were concluded between governments or opposition
groups in 39 countries on the continent. These involved weapons
supplies, military training, shared intelligence and surveillance.
The aim, he says, has always been to secure neo-colonial relations
with African countries. However, since 9/11, Wright says, the
process has been accelerated and taken on an increasingly militarist
character 'under the guise of fighting terrorism.'
Fighting proxy war is credible as long as there is a chance of
holding sway but history has repeatedly demonstrated when that
doesn't work out, the end is often direct involvement. That explains
why the 2007 U.S. military sets funding for Special Forces to
increase by 15 percent. According to the 2005 Quadrennial Defense
Review, these Special Forces 'will have the capacity to operate
in dozens of countries simultaneously - relying on a combination
of direct (visible) and indirect (clandestine) approaches.'
The Ethiopian government has said it does not have the resources
for an extended stay in Somalia even though the projection is
that it will take many months to 'stabilize' the situation in
the invaded country. As of this writing, the Bush Administration
was having difficulty raising troops from nearby cooperative states
to take over the job. Only Uganda seemed a sure bet. Assistant
U.S. Secretary of State for Africa, Ms Jendayi Frazer, told journalists:
"Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni promised U.S. President
George Bush in a recent phone call that he could supply between
1,000-2,000 troops to protect Somalia's transitional government
and train its troops. We hope to have the Ugandans deployed before
the end of January.'
Shortly after the invasion, Frazer told reporters there had been
no request for U.S. troops or military assistance so far, but
she did not rule out that it could be requested and supplied later
if necessary. Later came quickly. On Sunday, U.S. AC-130 gunships
began bombarding sites within Somalia and Hawkeye reconnaissance
planes took to the air pinpointing locations for attacks by jet
aircraft. Although the announced purpose of the bombing was alleged
al-Qaeda personnel, media reports indicated the target were 'Islamic
fighters', meaning troops of the UIC government. "The US
has sided with one Somali faction against another, this could
be the beginning of a new civil war ... I fear once again they
have gone for a quick fix based on false information, one 'highly
respected regional analyst' told the Times of London. 'If they
pull it off, however, it could be a turning point. The stakes
are very high indeed, now. I fear they are repeating the mistakes
of the past, not only in Somalia but in Afghanistan and Iraq and
will end up creating a new insurgency which could destabilize
this entire region.'
BC Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco,
a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees
of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked
for a healthcare union.