Somalia, the Horn of Africa and US Troops in Odd Places

The political situation in Somalia has been in changing on a daily basis since May as three major factions battle for power. In the course of writing this article, one of these factions, The Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism (ARPCT), has virtually ceased to be of relevance. This rather recently formed alliance largely consisted of the very same warlords who have been driving the civil strife in Somalia ever since the US failed to "restore hope" in 1993. Basically, these are the people who have kept Somalia in a perpetual state of lawlessness and violence, attempted to control all humanitarian aid reaching the country and have not any second thoughts about shattering whatever livelihoods ordinary Somalis had left.

Only in response to the rise of influence of networks of so-called Islamic courts, which have sought to step into the existing vacuum of political and legal authority, did the warlords overcome their differences, sensing that their own power could be under serious thereat. By labeling themselves as an alliance for counter-terrorism, they were able to secure moral, financial and logistical backing from none other than the Bush administration. The Alliance seemed to be the right force to utilize to stem the rise of Islamic courts, which the US has been suspecting of harboring and facilitating operations of groups and individuals allegedly linked to terrorists activity.  There is now no doubt that the US has been fuelling the civil war in the remnants of Somalia and has not shied away from sponsoring war criminals.

The further destabilization of the entire Horn of Africa is the de facto outcome of current US foreign policy in the region. The consequences have been the erosion of all attempts at economic and social recovery, as expressed in some of lowest human development indicators in the world. Persisting extreme poverty, child malnutrition, shattered local livelihoods, the perpetuating of failed states at the cost of thousands of lives – that is what the US has contributed to through its global war in both its open and covert manifestations. It is part of an American response to September 11 that has been accompanied by 

"….a direct military presence ,with a new US ..base set up in Djibouti, and the bolstering of the military capabilities of proxy state and nonstate actors…the United States has stepped up assistance to some military nonstate actors. In Somalia, it (has) funded General Aidid’s son… he is reported to have been paid $500,000 by the US for 41 Strela missiles to ensure that they do not fall into al-Qaeda’s hands". (2)

Until their defeat, the alliance of warlords, appear to have been directly on the Pentagons’ payroll. J.Pendergast of the International Crisis group estimates that CIA-operated flights into Somalia have been bringing in $100,000 to $150,000 per month for the warlords. The flights are said to have generally remained in the country for the day, so that US agents could confer with their allies, which presumably included warlord Qanyare Afrah, Botan Alin, Nure Said, and Bashir Rage, who is rumoured to have been the CIA’s "best man in Mogadishu". (3)

Indeed there have been credible accounts that "the White House and Pentagon are running a ‘parallel Somalia policy’ into which the State department has no input. Not only has the policy reignited fighting in Mogadishu: it appears to be strengthening the Islamic Courts and weakening those opposing them." An assessment that gains further credibility after Michael Zorick, the Kenya-based US official who handled Somalia for the Bush adminsitration was removed early from his post and transferred to Chad. Zorick had criticized that payments being made to the warlords were fuelling the fighting in Mogadishu, as part of an US intelligence plan to capture al Qaeda suspects. As reported by the news website Alertnet, "Washington has invested considerable military and intelligence resources in the Horn of Africa, starting with a base in Djibouti, and is known to operate in tandem with local security services and Ethiopia in particular."(4)

The regional dimensions of US-involvement in the Horn are very worrysome. All three neighboring countries, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya have been drawn into to conflict. The circle even extends to Yemen, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia, where either the governments have been implicated in weapons delivery or Somali businessmen have provided funding for the warring factions in Somalia. (5)

In Ethiopia, the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi is under internal and international pressure, as it scrambles to maintain political control through massive repression. The US government officially denounces the continuous human right abuses and suppression of democratic voice in Ethiopia, but also sees Zenawi as a reliable regional ally in its war on terror. (6) The role Ethiopia plays in Somali politics is defined by a blend of domestic damage control and proxy engagement on behalf of the US. Although Somalia is formally still under a UN arms embargo, it has nominally been supported by the US and warlords in Somalia have easily been able to restock with US-supplied arms via Ethiopia. With the warlords now scattered or defeated, arms supplies continue to the militarily weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG) under Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who "…has a force of several thousand in Baidoa,supplied with arms by air from Ethiopia and Yemen". (7) Furthermore, as throughout all neighboring countries of Somalia, the US defense security cooperation agency conducts commercial arms sales. All surrounding countries of Somalia participate in US’ "International Military Education and Training Program" (IMET) which is an important mechanism for conducting military operations. (8)  To date, Ethiopia has been a strong supporter of Somalia’s interim Transitional Federal Government (TFG) under President Abdullahi Yusuf. With the warlords now in disarray and possibly defeated, Ethiopia might be stepping up its support with direct military actions, an accusation Ethiopia has repeatedly denied, but one that keeps resurfacing with reports of

"Roughly 2,000 Ethiopian troops (many ethnic Somalis from Ethiopia) crossing into Somalia at Dollow, where the borders of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia converge, along with several tanks to complement about 2,000 soldiers already there". (9)

Hospital sources in Addis Abeba have spoken of the arrival wounded troops normally stationed near Dolo.

Kenya has been involved mainly on the diplomatic side and has sought to prevent the conflict from spilling over into its border regions. Under pressure from the US and Britain (which had issued restriction s on their citizens ability to travel to Kenya and thus dealt a blow to the Kenyan tourism industry), in April 2003 the Kenyan government tried to introduce a "Suppression of Terrorism" bill. The bill however was withdrawn, as members from Kenya’s vibrant civil society succeeded to mount a vocal opposition against it as it clearly violated the Kenyan constitution.(10) Many had criticized that it was modeled on the US Patriot Act and possibly even drafted by the US.

For some time now, Kenya has struggled to incorproate its Muslim citizens into national political institutions. Recently however, a more vocal and radical version of Islam has been gaining ground in Kenya fuelled by "Arab and Iranian oil money".(11) Of further concern to Kenyan authorities has been the longstanding troubles with its Somali neighbors and recent attempts by Somalia-based militant groups to spread their influence in Kenya. Furthermore, "Somalis with their vast regional diasporas have good communications and transport routes, and are said to be East Africa’s best black-market merchants, not only in cars and spare parts, but also in drugs, ivory and arms." These are believed to have encouraged"..the Kenyan government (to) engage enthusiastically with the US-supported East African counter-terrorism initiative." (12) 

The Kenyan Government may have grown exasperated with the perpetual shuttling back and forth of countless Somali faction leaders, gunrunners and semi-official reconciliation negotiators. In early June, Kenya imposed a travel ban on Somalia faction leaders and their associates. (13)

At this point it is important to emphasize that the other main political body playing a central role is the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), based in the town of Baidoa, northwest of the capital Mogadishu. Led by Somalia’s interim President Abdullahi Yusuf, a former warlord, it is closely allied with Ethiopia, which was instrumental in Yusuf’s election after peace talks in Kenya in 2004. The TFG has little military clout and is said to favor a quick deployment of an African peacekeeping force to help it establish its authority in the country. It has recently opened its first Embassy in Addis Abeba and to the African Union (AU). In late June the TFG leaders met with the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) representatives in Sudan, where both sides agreed to at least recognize each other as engaging in further dialogue. (14)

Political discussions are occurring at various levels and a team made up of representatives from the African Union (AU), the Arab League and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has visited Somalia for on-the-ground consultations on how to agree to some sort of political arrangement. Until now the UIC, has expressed strong opposition to the deployment of foreign troops in Somalia. Apart from Ethiopia, there are few if any countries willing to send troops.

Meanwhile, the role of Ethiopia in the Somalia conflict seems to be growing on a daily basis. Claims that Ethiopian troops have crossed into Somalia have been made and promptly denied by Ethiopia. Ethiopian ruler Zenawi Meles has been quick to respond by saying that Ethiopia has not sent troops to Somalia nor violated the United Nations arms embargo on Somalia.

To close a loop on the regional dynamics of the Somalia situation, a brief look at Djibouti is necessary. The mini-state on the Red Sea across from Yemen, has been relatively stable politically, not in small part due to the presence of French troops, continuing after late independence in 1977. The economic basis has never been solid and internal ethnic strife has been a growing worry for the autocratic regime of President Guelleh. With the arrival of a strong US-presence, the regime’s economic fortunes have rebounded, as Djibouti now receives some $30 million a year for allowing the US to maintain a naval base in the country. On top of this, US development aid has risen from about $1 million in 2001 to over $8 million in 2005. (15)

It is no secret that the "war on terror" has proven to be a bonanza for the mini-state on the Red Sea as "..Washington sees Djibouti as a convenient and cheap platform where it can deploy troops for possible hit-and-run raids into Somalia and Yemen."(16)

The political advantage for the Horn’s leaders from playing the counter-terrorist card to influence the regional political game seems significant since the region’s stratetgic location has made into a "US chasse gardée." Yet the local wars thereby triggered may well have already caused much more damage than the suspected terrorist networks the counter-terrorism measures and policies aim at stopping. (17)

It comes as no big surprise that Djibouti has also been implicated in being one of the actual "black sites" the US has been using to torture terrorism suspects at. This serious human rights violation issue made political headlines when it became known that the US had been secretly transporting prisoners by air through airports in Europe, before transferring them to unknown locations, so-called ‘black sites’ in countries where torture of prisoners is common. (18)

So what are the near future prospects for this region in deep turmoil? First, the current international mediation and bridge-building through the Arab League and other international organizations are a hopeful sign, but might be short-lived. Although several of the warlords have surrendered and handed over weapons, others decided to "take the money and run" to temporary sanctuary in Ethiopia, Kenya or further afield. The US Navy has picked up two warlords at sea on June, off the coast of Somalia. Others might be regrouping, presumably with support from their sponsors, especially as clan loyalties and rivalries remain the defining dimension of political control in Somalia.

Strategic forecasts indicate that

"The warlords of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) are not likely to have disappeared. While currently in retreat, the ARPCT could quickly resurface if public opinion turns against the ICU. Clan loyalties will continue providing them with troops and sanctuary." (19)

With political attention focused on the power games being orchestrated in the Horn of Afirca, the ongoing risk of renewed famine seems somewhat neglected and out fo view. Food aid delivery remains heavily hampered by the insecurity throughout the country and only once the UN has completed it assessment of safety and logistical conditions in Mogadishu, may larger scale WFP shipments begin arriving by sea again. The UIC has moved surprisingly fast in re-opening the Mogadishu airport, after some 15 years and soon the city’s port may also be again operational. For now, it is expected that crop and livestock production will be below normal in the near future, and the humanitarian crisis in the country is unlikely to improve significantly. (20)  

Although international attention has shifted to the prospect of an African-led peacekeeping force to be mobilized for Somalia, political realities on the gorund may still be far from condusive to such a mission. (21) It will be interesting to observe how long it will take to have a strong enough force organized and deployed. The composition of such a force, its financing and dependency on the logistical support for the US forces in the region, could turn into the lynchpin of its success or eventual failure.

The mill of claims, press releases, rumors, factual and biased reports is grinding in Somalia. News agencies have reported that even Bin Laden, in a new tape release, has warned against US involvement in Somalia. The Islamic court leaders have been quick to deny any link to Bin Laden. On the other hand, the authenticity of the tape, as of previous ones, is in doubt. Who can say if such tapes are not produced by the US itself, in an effort to gain an upper hand at least in the propaganda war, possibly in preparation for a direct military strike against the new Islamic court militias-turned-authorities?. (22)

There doesn’t appear to be sufficient concern among the leaders and supporters of the US global war on terror regarding the costs of their military operations, neither in terms of human lives nor in material terms. Just as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military costs in the Horn dramatically dwarf investments in humanitarian, reconstruction and peace-building efforts. In plain fugures, at a cost of $67,000,000 for a single MH-47 Chinook Helicopter, 77,084 Clean Water Wells, or 19,142,857 Blankets or 7,165,775 Mosquito Nets cold be procurred. (23)

For at least 30 years now, a whole generation of Somalis has grown accustomed to living in a failed state at best, a permanent no-go zone at its worst. Fighting each other for years without end, these kids and young men with no opportunities or options for living in peace and stability have grown up with guns and violence around them. Few of them have been in a regular school or learned a handicraft or vocation. Many have succumbed to peer pressure to join militias. Basic needs, hopes and democratic aspirations among citizens remain repressed by autocratic governments. In Somalia and its neighbouring countries, years of external political interference have led to perhaps irreversible socio-economic damage.


(1) Why Haditha Matters, The Nation, editorial, posted June 5, 2006 (June 19, 2006 issue)

The story even made it big in mainstream media, as Time ran a special report on "The Ghosts Of Haditha", in issue June 12, 2006 Vol. 167 No. 24

(2) Padraig Carmony, Transforming Globalization and Security: Africa and America post-9/11, in Africa Today, p. 100f.,Volume 52, Number 1, Fall 2005

(3) J.Pendergast quoted in Alertnet/Reuters foundation, 5 June 2006, US funding Somalia warlords – intelligence experts say,

reported the same day as the fall of Mogadishu to the Islamic courts was reported.

The US war on terror can be described as a political instrument in the Horn to influence regional politics. US funding of warlords led to a "scramble by faction leaders to find al-Qaeda figures for American reward money (and created) a real industry in abductions." The defeat of the US-backed warlords has shut down this thriving line of business. See: M. Gibert, The European Union in the IGAD-Subregion: Insights from Sudan and Somalia, in ROAPE no. 107, p.147

The author notes that "The Horn’s very strategic location has slowly made it a US chasse gardée….

Since the 9/11 attacks it has been on of the regions most closely observed by Western intelligence. Counter-terrorism issues have clearly influenced US politics in the region."

In the US Department of Defense conducted, 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Report of February 6, 2006, the openly aggressive military strategy is laid out, at times clouded as quais co-humaitarion effort.

In East Africa, the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) is currently helping to build host-nation capacity in Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Operating across large areas but using only small detachments, CJTF-HOA is

a prime example of distributed operations and economy of force. Military, civilian, and allied personnel work together to provide security training and to perform public works and medical assistance projects, demonstrating the benefits of unity of effort. Steps toward more effective host nation governance have improved local conditions and set the stage to minimize tribal, ethnic, and religious conflict, decreasing the possibility of failed states or ungoverned spaces in which terrorist extremists can more

easily operate or take shelter. (p.12)


(4) U.S. moves diplomat critical of Somali warlord aid, by Bryson Hull, 30 May 2006,

Reuters /Alertnet

Ch. Tomlinson from the Associated Press has reported that a "US. official….confirmed the U.S was cooperating with the secular warlords to capture (al-Qaida leaders suspected of being involved in terrorist bombings in Kenya in 1998 and 2002). But the warlords took the narrow goal and turned it into a bid to defeat the Islamic leaders who had within two years developed the post powerful militia in Somalia". AP, 6 June 2006, "Somali’s Islamic extremists set U.S. back

Alertnet maintains a detailed crisis profile "Somalia Troubles" with regular updates and detailed background information.

(5) U.S. says funds flow in from Saudi Arabia to Somalia, Reuters, 29 June 2006; not surprisingly, this report does not mention any US funding to the now defeated warlords.

(6) Siegfried Pausewang, recently expelled from Ethiopia has provided an detailed and insightful account of "A decade of democratic pretension and performance" in Ethiopia. See:

Ethiopia since the Derg, S.Pausewang et. Al., Zed books, London 2002; He notes with regard to the ruling party, the EPRDF, that:

"The foreign diplomatic community, was concerned, but followed, with minor reservations, the lead of the US Embassy which continued to insist that EPRDF was better than Mengistu (the previous dictator)…Their priority – maintaining stability in the Horn of Africa – made them overlook severe violations of human rights and excuse outright manipulations of elections and democratic processes….", p. 43

(7) The Islamic Courts on the other hand have reportedly received "…support from Eritrea, seeking to damage Ethiopia and…from rich individuals in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf."

Africa Confidential, vol.47, no.13, 23 June 2006, page 7

(8) See: D.Volman, US Military Involvement in Africa, ROAPE, no.98, 2003, p. 187ff.

(9) Roughly 2,000 Ethiopian troops earlier this week crossed in at Dollow, where the borders of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia converge, along with several tanks to complement about 2,000 soldiers already there, various sources said.

"They had crossed with tanks, about a dozen, and about another 2,000-3,000 men," a Western diplomat said.

A military expert who monitors security daily and a government official based in Baidoa – the government’s temporary base and only outpost – confirmed that.

"The Ethiopian troops are in several locations within Somalia, scattered all over in Dollow, Bulahawo, Wajid and in other remote locations on the outskirts of Baidoa," the Somali government official said.

Ethiopian troops bolster Somali govt – Friday, 14 July, 2006, in Gulf Times, Doha, Qatar at:


For a previous account see the overview " Somalia: Who supports who?", by BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut

For in depth coverage by the BBC go to:

Regular updates on humanitarian dimensions of the crisis are provide by the UN’s Relief web

(10) W.C. Kamau, Kenya & the War on Terrorism, in ROAPE, no. 107, 2006, p. 133-162

(11) J.Haynes, Islam and Democracy in East Africa, in: Democratization, vol.13, no.3, June 2006, p.499

(12) ibid., page 500

(13) J.Mulama, A little tough love for faction leaders, Nairobi, IPS, 9 June 2006


(14) SOMALIA: Govt, Islamic courts agree to recognise each other, IRIN news, 23 June;


(15) The US defines development assistance" as the transfer of resources from the United States to developing countries and to some strategic allies. It is delivered in the form of money (via loans or grants), contributions of goods (such as food aid), and technical assistance. The U.S. gives assistance to other countries for a variety of reasons, not all of them having directly to do with development:

o National security and foreign policy interests-for example, to Uzbekistan and Pakistan in exchange for use of their territory for military operations in Afghanistan

o Political development and stability-for conflict prevention, to build peace after conflict, and to strengthen failing states

o Humanitarian crises-to countries and people suffering famine, recovering from a natural disaster, or displaced by conflict

o Long-term development purposes.

Aid to Djibouti presumably falls largely into the first category.

(16) A.Bollee, Djibouti: From French outpost to US base, Briefing from Vol.30 No.97 of the Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE) September 2003: pp481-484;

São Tomé and Príncipe, another mini-state is also set to become a US platform, this one in the midst of West-African off-shore oil fields, see: Briefing by Glenn Brigaldino from Vol.32 No.103 of the Review of African Political Economy (March 2005: pp185-187);

(17) The European Union in the IGAD-Subregion: Insights from Sudan & Somalia, M.Gibert in ROAPE no.107, p.142-150

(18) US ‘used Djibouti’ in rendition, 5 April 2006;

Amnesty International has suggested that Djibouti was one of the countries where prisoners allegedly abducted and mistreated by the US were held. The report, based on interviews with former detainees, also links the US practice of "rendition" to the torture or ill-treatment of terror suspects. Washington has insisted it would never send detainees to places where they would be at risk of torture. The CIA said it was aware of the report but declined to comment.

(19) Strategic Forecasting Inc., June 22, 2006; Third Quarter Forecast: From the Middle East to Eurasia – Part 2;

Also see:

Islamist takeover – Clans switch sides to overthrow the warlords but will they stay loyal to the Islamic Courts?, Africa Confidential, vol.47, no.13, 23 June 2006, page 6 and7

(20) Greater Horn of Africa (GHA) Food Security Bulletin June 2006, Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), 27 June 2006

(21) Daniel Flynn for the Reuters foundation, reports on 2 July 2006 in "Africa Union agrees peace mission for Somalia":

A summit (in The Gambia) of the 53-member African Union (AU) called for dialogue between Somalia’s weak interim government and powerful Islamic courts, which wrested control of the war-scarred capital Mogadishu from U.S.-backed warlords early last month A resolution adopted unanimously at the meeting said an AU peace and stability mission would deploy in Somalia in the wake of peacekeepers from the east African regional body IGAD (the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development), delegates said.


Joseph Winter of the BBC asks " Is Somalia next for ‘war on terror’?" noting that " Since the 11 September attacks on the United States more than four years ago, Somalis have feared that their lawless country could become the setting for a battle between US-backed anti-terror forces and al-Qaeda sympathizers. That prospect now seems more likely than ever.

BBC, 7 June 2006:

(23) The Cost Of War Calculator on the website of the Share The World’s Resources (STWR) organization provides a set of very illustrative examples of how money could be put to good use.

The site estimates the total cost of the War In Iraq (So Far) at $440,000,000,000.


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