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United States-Somali Relations: Local, National and International Dimensions

United States-Somali Relations: Local, National and International Dimensions

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Published by David Shinn
Amb. David Shinn's remarks on April 26, 2010, at the Center for African Studies, Ohio State University
Amb. David Shinn's remarks on April 26, 2010, at the Center for African Studies, Ohio State University

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Published by: David Shinn on Apr 27, 2010
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United States-Somali Relations: Local, National and International DimensionsCenter for African StudiesOhio State UniversityColumbus, Ohio26 April 2010Remarks by David H. ShinnAdjunct Professor Elliott School of International AffairsGeorge Washington UniversityI thank the Center for African Studies at Ohio State University for inviting me totalk with you about U.S. policy in Somalia. I want to emphasize that I do not speak for the United States Government but only for myself.Early BackgroundThe history of United States-Somali relations has not always been pretty.Washington’s close relations with the Haile Selassie government in neighboring Ethiopia prevented warm ties with Somalia until after the overthrow of the emperor by a left-wingmilitary regime in the mid-1970s when the Soviet Union began to replace Americaninfluence in Ethiopia. The Cold War then caused the United States to expand its ties withSiad Barre’s Somalia, which previously had been closely tied to the Soviet Union. ColdWar politics dominated the U.S.-Somali relationship until the fall of the Soviet Union atthe end of the 1980s and the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991. As forces opposed to SiadBarre overran Mogadishu early in 1991, the United States evacuated its embassy andnever returned except when it established a liaison office during the internationalhumanitarian mission initially led by the United States that began at the end of 1992.The U.S.-led humanitarian mission transformed into a United Nations peacekeeping operation early in 1993. The UN mission, strongly supported by theUnited States, did contribute significantly to ending the terrible famine in Somalia butfailed to reestablish peace and a national Somali government. It eventually led to aconflict between the UN forces and the most powerful Somali warlord, MohammedFarah Aideed. The United States pulled out of the UN mission early in 1994 andessentially abandoned Somalia except for providing emergency assistance to Somalis andsubsequently engaging in occasional counter-terrorist operations.U.S.-Somali Relations from 2006 to 2009The United States took a renewed interest in Somalia in 2006 when the Union of Islamic Courts threatened to control much of the country. In a particularly ill-adviseddecision, the United States supported a group of Somali warlords known as the Alliancefor the Restoration of Peace and Counter Terrorism to halt the progress of the Union oIslamic Courts. This effort failed miserably and the Islamic Courts took control of about
 
50 percent of Somalia. As the rhetoric of the Islamic Courts became increasingly stridenttowards Ethiopia, the government in Addis Ababa, at the request of the SomaliTransitional Federal Government (TFG), sent its troops deep into Somalia at the beginning of 2007 and captured Mogadishu without much resistance from the IslamicCourts. Some elements of the armed militia of the Islamic Courts fled to southernSomalia, where eventually they reorganized as al-Shabaab or the Youth.Contrary to popular belief, the United States did not encourage Ethiopia to marchdeep into Somalia. On the other hand, once Ethiopia succeeded in ousting the IslamicCourts from Mogadishu, the United States urged the Ethiopians to remain there as theTFG was not able to remain in power without Ethiopian military support. In 2007 and2008, U.S. military forces engaged in five separate counter-terrorist attacks in Somalia.Most of these attacks were of questionable value, although a missile launched from a shipin the Indian Ocean in May 2008 killed al-Shabaab header, Aden Hashi Ayro, in the townof Dusamareb. Unfortunately, a number of innocent Somalis also died in the attack.This situation prevailed until the beginning of 2009, when all Ethiopian troops leftMogadishu and returned to Ethiopia or Somali territory along the border with Ethiopia.This development coincided with the arrival of the Obama Administration in Washingtonand the selection of a new president of the TFG, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, one of thetwo principal leaders of the Union of Islamic Courts.Al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in SomaliaThe rise of al-Shabaab and its increasing ties to al-Qaeda heightened U.S. concernabout developments in Somalia beginning in the Bush Administration and continuing intothe Obama Administration. Links between these two groups actually date back severalyears. A number of al-Shabaab leaders, including, for example, Hassan al-Turki and thenow deceased Aden Hashi Ayro, are products of al-Qaeda training in Afghanistan.Sheikh Muktar Robow told the
 Los Angeles Times
in 2008 that “most of our leaders were trained in al-Qaeda camps.” He added that “we will take our orders fromSheikh Osama bin Laden because we are his students.” Senior al-Shabaab leader, nowdeceased Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, declared in 2008 an oath of loyalty on behalf of al-Shabaab to bin Laden and al-Qaeda.In a March 2009 broadcast titled “Fight on, Champions of Somalia,” Osama binLaden called on Somalis to topple TFG President Ahmed, who he called a surrogate of our enemies. Days later, a senior al-Shabaab official said bin-Laden’s message was proof that al-Qaeda supports Islamist groups in Somalia.In September 2009, al-Shabaab proclaimed its allegiance to Osama bin Laden in a48-minute long video documentary called “At Your Service, Osama.” Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane said in the video “we are awaiting your guidance in this advancestage of jihad.” Al-Shabaab stated in February 2010 that it had agreed “to connect theHorn of Africa to the one led by al-Qaeda and its leader Sheikh Osama bin Laden.”There have been numerous reports for some time that bin Laden appointed FazulAbdullah Mohammed, originally from the Comoro Islands, as the leader of al-Qaeda inEast Africa and the Horn. Fazul was one of the organizers of the bombings of the U.Sembassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. The Nairobi
 Daily Nation
reported inMarch 2010, quoting Kenyan counter-terrorism officials, that Fazul had left his most2
 
recent place of refuge in Tanzania for Somalia to take charge of al-Shabaab. If this reportis accurate, it leaves no doubt as to the link between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab.Actions by the Obama Administration in SomaliaThe Obama Administration decided early in 2009 to support President Ahmed,the TFG, and the African Union force in Mogadishu, which has prevented al-Shabaaband other groups from toppling the TFG. The United States also backed the Djibouti peace process and determined to use American military power in Somalia only in therarest of circumstances. It significantly raised the standards by which it would usemilitary force as compared to the practice of the Bush Administration.The only U.S. military attack in Somalia since January 2009 of which I am awarewas the September 2009 raid by U.S. special forces in four helicopters operating from aship offshore. They attacked a two-vehicle convoy south of Mogadishu that containedSaleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan national with long-standing ties to al-Qaeda and asenior official in al-Shabaab. This attack killed six non-Somali al-Shabaab members andthree Somali supporters of al-Shabaab. Nabhan took part in the planning of the 1998attack on U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and was the master-mind behindthe 2002 attack on the Israeli owned hotel outside Mombasa, Kenya. Nabhan was a closeassociate of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed.The United States is the single largest source of emergency food aid for Somalis.Most of this assistance is distributed by the World Food Program, Somali contractors andnon-governmental organizations. The problem is that al-Shabaab controls 95 percent of the territory where the food is distributed. The World Food Program paid about $200million in 2009 for distributing donated food in Somalia. Of this sum, about 10 percentgoes to ground transporters, some of whom have links to al-Shabaab, and 5-10 percentgoes as protection money to the armed group in control of the region where fooddistribution takes place. Since al-Shabaab controls most of the territory, it receives mostof the protection money. There are also reports that Somali transporters divert some of the money directly to al-Shabaab.The United States objected to World Food Program funding going indirectly to al-Shabaab and said it would cut back on food deliveries. This has resulted in a terrible policy dilemma for the United States, i.e. a decision to reduce or even cut off food aid toneedy Somalis or allow it to continue and permit funding indirectly to a terroristorganization. UN officials say they have no choice except to work with local al-Shabaabcommanders in those regions under their control. Subsequently, al-Shabaab demandedthat the World Food Program stop bringing food into areas it controls, arguing that itinhibits local crop production. It is not clear to me how much food aid is now going intothose parts of Somalia controlled by al-Shabaab.In another action, the United States encouraged UN sanctions against Eritrea for its support of al-Shabaab among other concerns. The UN Monitoring Group on Somaliahas over the years documented Eritrean support for al-Shabaab. The UN SecurityCouncil released the most recent report in March 2010.In the past two months, commentary in the press and on the internet has suggestedthat the United States is about to support a major TFG military offensive against al-Shabaab. A recent
 New York Times
article began by stating “U.S. Aiding Somalia in Its3

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