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University Columbus, Ohio 26 April 2010 Remarks by David H. Shinn Adjunct Professor Elliott School of International Affairs George Washington University I thank the Center for African Studies at Ohio State University for inviting me to talk 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 Background The 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-wing military regime in the mid-1970s when the Soviet Union began to replace American influence in Ethiopia. The Cold War then caused the United States to expand its ties with Siad Barre’s Somalia, which previously had been closely tied to the Soviet Union. Cold War politics dominated the U.S.-Somali relationship until the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s and the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991. As forces opposed to Siad Barre overran Mogadishu early in 1991, the United States evacuated its embassy and never returned except when it established a liaison office during the international humanitarian 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 the United States, did contribute significantly to ending the terrible famine in Somalia but failed to reestablish peace and a national Somali government. It eventually led to a conflict between the UN forces and the most powerful Somali warlord, Mohammed Farah Aideed. The United States pulled out of the UN mission early in 1994 and essentially abandoned Somalia except for providing emergency assistance to Somalis and subsequently engaging in occasional counter-terrorist operations. U.S.-Somali Relations from 2006 to 2009 The 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-advised decision, the United States supported a group of Somali warlords known as the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter Terrorism to halt the progress of the Union of Islamic Courts. This effort failed miserably and the Islamic Courts took control of about
2 50 percent of Somalia. As the rhetoric of the Islamic Courts became increasingly strident towards Ethiopia, the government in Addis Ababa, at the request of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), sent its troops deep into Somalia at the beginning of 2007 and captured Mogadishu without much resistance from the Islamic Courts. Some elements of the armed militia of the Islamic Courts fled to southern Somalia, where eventually they reorganized as al-Shabaab or the Youth. Contrary to popular belief, the United States did not encourage Ethiopia to march deep into Somalia. On the other hand, once Ethiopia succeeded in ousting the Islamic Courts from Mogadishu, the United States urged the Ethiopians to remain there as the TFG was not able to remain in power without Ethiopian military support. In 2007 and 2008, 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 ship in the Indian Ocean in May 2008 killed al-Shabaab header, Aden Hashi Ayro, in the town of Dusamareb. Unfortunately, a number of innocent Somalis also died in the attack. This situation prevailed until the beginning of 2009, when all Ethiopian troops left Mogadishu and returned to Ethiopia or Somali territory along the border with Ethiopia. This development coincided with the arrival of the Obama Administration in Washington and the selection of a new president of the TFG, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, one of the two principal leaders of the Union of Islamic Courts. Al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in Somalia The rise of al-Shabaab and its increasing ties to al-Qaeda heightened U.S. concern about developments in Somalia beginning in the Bush Administration and continuing into the Obama Administration. Links between these two groups actually date back several years. A number of al-Shabaab leaders, including, for example, Hassan al-Turki and the now 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 from Sheikh Osama bin Laden because we are his students.” Senior al-Shabaab leader, now deceased Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, declared in 2008 an oath of loyalty on behalf of alShabaab to bin Laden and al-Qaeda. In a March 2009 broadcast titled “Fight on, Champions of Somalia,” Osama bin Laden 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 a 48-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 advance stage of jihad.” Al-Shabaab stated in February 2010 that it had agreed “to connect the Horn 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 Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, originally from the Comoro Islands, as the leader of al-Qaeda in East Africa and the Horn. Fazul was one of the organizers of the bombings of the U.S embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. The Nairobi Daily Nation reported in March 2010, quoting Kenyan counter-terrorism officials, that Fazul had left his most
3 recent place of refuge in Tanzania for Somalia to take charge of al-Shabaab. If this report is accurate, it leaves no doubt as to the link between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab. Actions by the Obama Administration in Somalia The Obama Administration decided early in 2009 to support President Ahmed, the TFG, and the African Union force in Mogadishu, which has prevented al-Shabaab and 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 the rarest of circumstances. It significantly raised the standards by which it would use military 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 aware was the September 2009 raid by U.S. special forces in four helicopters operating from a ship offshore. They attacked a two-vehicle convoy south of Mogadishu that contained Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan national with long-standing ties to al-Qaeda and a senior official in al-Shabaab. This attack killed six non-Somali al-Shabaab members and three Somali supporters of al-Shabaab. Nabhan took part in the planning of the 1998 attack on U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and was the master-mind behind the 2002 attack on the Israeli owned hotel outside Mombasa, Kenya. Nabhan was a close associate 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 and non-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 $200 million in 2009 for distributing donated food in Somalia. Of this sum, about 10 percent goes to ground transporters, some of whom have links to al-Shabaab, and 5-10 percent goes as protection money to the armed group in control of the region where food distribution takes place. Since al-Shabaab controls most of the territory, it receives most of 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 alShabaab 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 to needy Somalis or allow it to continue and permit funding indirectly to a terrorist organization. UN officials say they have no choice except to work with local al-Shabaab commanders in those regions under their control. Subsequently, al-Shabaab demanded that the World Food Program stop bringing food into areas it controls, arguing that it inhibits local crop production. It is not clear to me how much food aid is now going into those 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 Somalia has over the years documented Eritrean support for al-Shabaab. The UN Security Council released the most recent report in March 2010. In the past two months, commentary in the press and on the internet has suggested that the United States is about to support a major TFG military offensive against alShabaab. A recent New York Times article began by stating “U.S. Aiding Somalia in Its
4 Plans to Retake Its Capital.” In my view, these press and internet reports significantly exaggerate the U.S. role in Somalia. The United States has helped fund the African Union force in Mogadishu. It has also paid for some of the training of TFG security forces by other countries conducted in Uganda and Djibouti. Since June 2007, the United States provided $185 million to the African Union force. It also provided $12 million of in-kind support and $2 million in cash support to the TFG. In June 2009, this included 94 tons of ammunition, small arms, uniforms, communications equipment and night vision equipment to the African Union force to be transferred to TFG security forces. In addition, the United States provides about $150 million annually in emergency food aid, most of which goes through the World Food Program. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, acknowledged last month that the United States had provided limited military support to the TFG through the African Union force. He emphasized that there are no U.S. troops in Somalia and that the United States is not providing any direct support for a potential TFG military offensive in Somalia. Carson emphasized that TFG military operations are the responsibility of the TFG. Finally, he urged the TFG to broaden its political base of support and emphasized that an end to the conflict in Somalia must be African based. The most recent U.S. action on Somalia occurred this month when the Treasury Department froze the assets of a dozen individuals, most of them Somali militants and several senior officials of al-Shabaab. The order targets persons who threaten peace and stability in Somalia, inhibit the delivery of humanitarian assistance or who supply arms in violation of the arms embargo. International Support for the TFG The United Nations, African Union and Arab League all support the TFG. The European Union and numerous African and Arab countries have professed their backing of the TFG and in many cases provided tangible support. Even China has provided assistance to the TFG. One of the most urgent tasks is developing a TFG security force that is competent, loyal and non-corrupt. Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia have all contributed to this effort by training TFG security personnel, sometimes funded by the United States or other parties. France has trained TFG forces in Djibouti. The European Union recently started training under the command of Spain of TFG forces in Uganda. The German Armed Forces recently announced they will begin to train Somali security forces in Uganda next month. Somalis Recruited from the Diaspora One of the most pressing issues for Somalis living in the diaspora is the matter of recruitment of young Somalis by al-Shabaab. Several dozen Somalis from the U.S. diaspora have joined al-Shabaab. Most of them came from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the location of the largest Somali community in the United States. Most of them joined al-Shabaab late in 2007 and throughout 2008, probably in reaction to Ethiopian forces in Somalia. One of them, Shirwa Ahmed, became the first known American suicide
5 bomber. Al-Shabaab propaganda played on the nationalist sentiments of these disaffected young Somalis, who constituted a very tiny percentage of the Somali community in the United States. The New York Times and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune have documented how al-Shabaab convinced them to leave their new home in the United States and join an extremist organization. Some of them had bright futures; others had fallen in with unsavory elements in the United States. Eventually, the United States subpoenaed more than fifty people to appear before a grand jury in Minneapolis and another jury convened in San Diego. The FBI expanded the investigation to Somali communities in Boston, Seattle, Portland, Maine, and Columbus. I am not aware that any Somalis from Columbus have joined al-Shabaab, but some of you in the audience would know better than I if this has been an issue in your community. Some of the Somalis who joined al-Shabaab became disenchanted with the organization and returned to the United States. Two of them pleaded guilty in a Minneapolis district court to terrorism related charges as did a third Somali in Seattle. Others have been indicted. So far, six Somalis from Minneapolis have been killed in fighting in Somalia. One of the most detailed accounts of a young Somali who became caught up in the al-Shabaab movement concerns Omar Hammami from Daphne, Alabama. His nom de guerre is Abu Mansoor al-Amriki. He stars in an al-Shabaab video used for recruiting other Somalis from the diaspora. He comes from a good family, was a popular student at his high school in Alabama and had excellent grades. The 21 January 2010 New York Times Magazine details his life and the process by which Hammami or al-Amriki landed in Somalia in 2006. A small number of Somalis in other countries have also joined al-Shabaab. There are well-documented cases where Somalis from Canada, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom went to Somalia for the purpose of aiding al-Shabaab. The Swedish State Security Police estimate that about twenty Somalis have joined al-Shabaab. A Somali from Denmark is believed to have carried out the December 2009 suicide bombing in Mogadishu that killed graduating medical students and several TFG ministers. Several Somalis in Australia allegedly concocted a plot to attack an Australian military base. Two of them had trained with al-Shabaab in Somalia, although al-Shabaab denied any connection with the plot. As a result of this incident, Australia joined the growing list of countries that has declared al-Shabaab a terrorist organization. Conclusion While the United States would like to see a peaceful, prosperous and stable Somalia under any circumstances, it is clear that the existence of one or more armed, extremist groups in the country is driving U.S. policy there. While U.S. support for improving the TFG security forces is necessary, I agree with the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia that it is even more important that the TFG broaden its political base. It must also attract and solidify alliances with like-minded moderate Somali groups Some argue that this effort should include discussions with moderate leaders in alShabaab. I am not convinced there are any moderate al-Shabaab leaders at the present time. In any event, if such persons exist in al-Shabaab, it is up to the TFG and not foreigners to engage them in dialogue. The TFG also needs to take seriously the charges
6 of corruption in its security forces made by the Monitoring Group on Somalia. These steps will do more to strengthen the TFG than mobilizing external financial resources.