US' Somalia Policy Likely to Bring
by Jim Lobe
www.antiwar.com/, September 4,
US counterterrorism policies and support
for the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG)
in Somalia have helped create an increasingly desperate humanitarian
and security situation in the East African nation, whose population
has become increasingly radicalized and anti-US, according to
a new report by a major US human rights group.
The report, authored by Ken Menkhaus,
a Davidson College professor who is regarded as one of the foremost
US experts on the Horn of Africa, calls for a thorough reassessment
of US policy, including its support for the TFG and the primacy
it has given to its "war on terrorism" in Somalia.
"US counterterrorism policies have
not only compromised other international agendas in Somalia, they
have generated a high level of anti-Americanism and are contributing
to radicalization of the population," concluded the report,
entitled "Somalia: A Country in Peril, a Foreign Policy Nightmare."
"In what could become a dangerous
instance of blowback, defense and intelligence operations intended
to make the United States more secure from the threat of terrorism
may be increasing the threat of jihadist attacks on American interests,"
the report stressed.
The 17-page report, released by ENOUGH,
a group launched last year by the Brussels-based International
Crisis Group (ICG) and the Washington-based Center for American
Progress (CAP), was released amid continuing violence in Somalia
that has forced some one million people to flee their homes since
December 2006, when US-backed Ethiopian and TFG forces swept the
Islamic Courts Union (ICU) out of the capital, Mogadishu, and
other major cities and towns.
The UN recently estimated that, barring
substantial improvement in the security situation, some 3.5 million
Somalis will be dependent on humanitarian aid by the end of this
"The (current) crisis is fundamentally
different and fundamentally worse than the situation of the last
decade and a half," said Chris Albin-Lackey, a Horn of Africa
specialist at Human Rights Watch (HRW), who appeared with Menkhaus
at the report's release at a conference sponsored by at the Woodrow
Wilson International Center for Scholars here Wednesday.
Albin-Lackey, who has conducted some 80
interviews of Somali refugees in East Africa in the past month,
said ongoing violence, including almost daily artillery bombardments
by Ethiopian army and TFG forces on the one hand and opposition
militias, including the Islamist Shabaab on the other, as well
as assassinations carried out by both sides, have added to the
"People have nowhere to turn for
security," he said, adding that search operations by TFG
forces, while nominally for the purpose of arresting suspected
insurgents, had become "an excuse for murder, rape and looting
on an incredibly large scale." As a result, he said, Mogadishu
has become "largely depopulated" with about two-thirds
of the population - or about 800,000 people - having left their
homes there over the past 18 months.
Menkhaus described last month's signing
by the TCG and the opposition Alliance for the Reliberation of
Somalia (ARS) of the "Djibouti Agreement" negotiated
between moderate leaders of both sides with the help of UN Special
Representative Ahmadou Ould-Abdulla last June as an "important
step" toward reconciliation but warned that hard-liners in
both camps could derail it.
The agreement, which has been rejected
by the Shabaab and was only agreed to by the hawkish TFG president,
Adullahi Yusuf, under heavy pressure from Ethiopian President
Meles Zenawi, calls for a cessation of hostilities, deployment
of a UN peacekeeping force, and the subsequent withdrawal of Ethiopian
"The hope is that any agreement that
facilitates the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces will open the door
for an end to the insurgency," according to the report.
But the implementation of the agreement
faces "steep challenges," warned Menkhaus, not least
because "the moderates [who negotiated the accord] don't
control any of the armed groups." While the Shabaab have
already denounced the ARS leaders as "apostates," he
noted, hard-liners in the TFG know that they can stay in power
"if and only if the Ethiopians stay."
Only by reinforcing the moderates can
the international community, including the US, enhance the chances
for the agreement's successful implementation and, with it, the
chances for reconciliation, according to Menkhaus. But that will
require major changes in US and western policies, which have "actually
worked to strengthen and embolden hardliners" over the past
In that respect, the US emphasis on counterterrorism
has been particularly destructive, not only in supporting the
Ethiopian offensive in December, 2006, but, more recently, in
placing the Shabaab on its list of designated terrorist groups
last March. That step not only isolated opposition moderates from
their own coalition but also gave the Shabaab "even more
reason to sabotage" ongoing peace talks.
At the same time, Washington has provided
"robust financial and logistical support to armed paramilitaries
resisting the command and control of the TGF, even though they
technically wear a TFG hat" to both fight the Shabaab and
track down suspected terrorists.
"To the extent that these security
forces also deeply oppose...reconciliation efforts with the opposition,
the US counterterrorism partnerships have also undermined peace-building
efforts by emboldening spoilers in the government camp,"
according to the report.
Washington has not been alone in supporting
the hard-liners, however. As part of their state-building agenda,
other western donors have also provided direct support to TGF
security forces under the control of the hawks. Despite the UN's
role as a supposedly neutral broker between the TFG and the opposition,
the UN Development Program, has also provided security assistance
to the TFG.
The Tomahawk missile attack that killed
Shabaab leader Aden Hashi Ayro in May - the latest in a series
of similar strikes against armed Islamists in Somalia, allegedly
tied to al-Qaeda - resulted in a sharp radicalization in the group,
which announced at the time that it would strike against US and
western targets, including aid workers, as well as Ethiopian and
TFG forces, compounding an already dramatic humanitarian crisis.
"Somalia today is the most dangerous
place in the world for humanitarian aid workers," according
to Menkhaus. More than 20 humanitarian workers have been killed
since January, while some 30 more have been kidnapped.
"The situation in Somalia today exceeds
the worst-case scenarios conjured up by regional analysts when
they first contemplated the possible impact of an Ethiopian military
occupation," according to the report. "Over the past
18 months, Somalia has descended into terrible levels of displacement
and humanitarian need, armed conflict and assassinations, political
meltdown, radicalization and virulent anti-Americanism."
"We've gotten the exact opposite
of what we set out to achieve," Menkhaus noted, including
a "population radically angry at us and very fertile ground