DoJ: If we can track one American, we can track all Americans

Ars Technica reports: Seven months after his conviction, Basaaly Moalin’s defense attorney moved for a new trial (PDF), arguing that evidence collected about him under the government’s recently disclosed dragnet telephone surveillance program violated his constitutional and statutory rights. Moalin’s is the only thwarted “terrorist plot” against America that the government says also “critically” relied on the National Security Agency phone surveillance program, conducted under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The government’s response (PDF), filed on September 30th, is a heavily redacted opposition arguing that when law enforcement can monitor one person’s information without a warrant, it can monitor everyone’s information, “regardless of the collection’s expanse.” Notably, the government is also arguing that no one other than the company that provided the information — including the defendant in this case — has the right to challenge this disclosure in court.

The success of these arguments is critical to the government; the terrorist plot for which Moalin and three other defendants were convicted in February was sending about $8,500 to al-Shabaab, known most recently for the Kenyan Westgate mall attack. The money was sent in 2007 and 2008.

The United States government designated al-Shabaab — which means “The Youth” — a terrorist group in 2008, but the FBI’s extensive wiretapping of Moalin started about two months before that. FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce recently revealed to Congress that the FBI had also conducted another investigation into Moalin’s activities in 2003 and ultimately concluded that there was “no nexus to terrorism.” This evidence was kept from the defense during trial. [Continue reading...]

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Al-Shabaab target may explain U.S. secrecy over failed Somali raid

Simon Tsidall writes: Official US reluctance to identify the target of the failed Somali raid by Seal Team Six special forces commandos may stem from a wish not to further bolster the reputation of al-Shabaab’s shadowy leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr.

The Islamist militia’s hardline emir emerged as Africa’s most wanted man after the 21 September Westgate mall attack in Nairobi that killed least 67 people, for which he claimed responsibility. His capture would have been portrayed as a triumph. By extension, his eluding of US-style justice will be seen as a serious setback. Pentagon officials will say only that the target of the dawn raid on the seaside town of Barawe, south of Mogadishu, was a “high-value” al-Shabaab terrorist linked to Westgate. Local sources said the Seals attacked a building housing foreign fighters, and that an unidentified Chechen fighter may have been their quarry.

But this is unlikely to be the whole story, given the elaborate preparations for the raid, which began soon after Westgate. The US navy Seals are the same crack unit that killed the al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden, two years ago in Pakistan. This time, too, Barack Obama was reportedly kept closely informed of the progress of the Somali plan, and of the almost simultaneous operation in Libya.

Given the political sensitivity, at home and in the Muslim world, that surrounds such US on-the-ground incursions, Obama will have personally given the go-ahead for both raids. His orders were reportedly to capture, if possible, rather than kill. [Continue reading...]

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Libya demands explanation for ‘kidnapping’ of citizen by U.S. forces

The Guardian reports: Libya has demanded an explanation for the “kidnapping” of one of its citizens by American special forces, hours after a separate US military raid on a terrorist target in Somalia ended in apparent failure and retreat.

In Tripoli the US army’s delta force seized alleged al-Qaida leader Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, known by his alias Abu Anas al-Liby and wanted for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 220 people.

But US navy Seals suffered a major setback when they launched an amphibious assault to capture an Islamist militant leader said to be Ahmed Godane, described as Africa’s most wanted man and the architect of last month’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya. The elite Seals were beaten back by heavy fire and apparently abandoned equipment that the Somali militants photographed and posted on the internet.

As dramatic details of Saturday’s twin operations emerged, US secretary of state John Kerry insisted that terrorists “can run but they can’t hide”, but faced growing questions about America’s military reach in Africa and the consequences of unilateral aggression.

Al-Liby was captured outside his family home at 6.15am in Noufle’een, a quiet suburb in eastern Tripoli, according to witnesses, but there were conflicting reports over who took him. His brother, Nabih, told the Associated Press that al-Liby was parking when a convoy of three vehicles encircled his car. Armed gunmen smashed the car’s window and seized al-Liby’s gun before grabbing him and taking him away, the report said. The brother said al-Liby’s wife saw the kidnapping from her window and described the abductors as foreign-looking armed “commandos”.

But al-Liby’s son Abdullah insisted that Libyan forces were involved. Appearing on Tripoli’s Nabir TV station, he said: “The people who took my father were Libyan, not Americans – they spoke with Tripoli accents. [Continue reading...]

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Al Shabaab attack in Kenya

Jamal Osman, a Somali-born reporter for Channel 4 News in the UK says that his sources say that “some or most” of the attackers in this weekend’s attack on Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi are “Western passport holders”.

Channel 4 News reports: Striking at the heart of the capital city and a symbolic place, it is designed to have the maximum effect on the locals.

Kenyans who have generally enjoyed peace will find it hard to go about their daily lives, for some time to come.

It is also going to have an impact on the nation’s economy, a country that prides itself of being a regional hub.

Foreign companies invest in every sector. Tourism makes huge contribution to the local economy.

Many aid organisations including the UN are based there. This attack is likely to scare off foreign tourists, investors and international aid workers.

The al-Qaeda-linked group, which still controls large parts of southern and central Somalia, has been under pressure in the last three years.

A coalition of forces from several African nations, supporting a weak Somali government, is fighting to defeat the militants.

Kenya is part of the alliance that pushed the Islamist from the main cities and its forces captured Kismayo from the group in 2011.

For the Islamists, losing Kismayo was very difficult to swallow.

The port city, third largest in the country, was a strategic place and it generated an enormous source of income.

Therefore, they chose their target and planned the assault carefully. Westgate shopping mall was the perfect place for them.

The centre is popular with westerners, wealthy Kenyans and Somali politicians.

All of them targets for al-Shabaab. More so, it is reportedly owned by Israelis.

Targeting Israeli interests will win al-Shabaab supporters amongst the jihadi community and some in the Arab world.

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Is the U.S. ramping up a secret war in Somalia?

Colum Lynch reports: The Obama administration earlier this year expanded its secret war in Somalia, stepping up assistance for federal and regional Somali intelligence agencies that are allied against the country’s Islamist insurgency. It’s a move that’s not only violating the terms of an international arms embargo, according to U.N. investigators. The escalation also could be a signal that Washington’s signature victory against al-Qaeda’s most powerful African ally may be in danger of unraveling.

Just last year, Obama’s team was touting Somalia as unqualified success. “Somalia is a good news story for the region, for the international community, but most especially for the people of Somalia itself,” Johnnie Carson, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters last October at the New York Foreign Press Center. Carson praised African forces, principally Uganda and Kenya, for driving the terror group al-Shabab out of the Somalia’s main cities, Mogadishu and Kismayo. “The U.S.,” he boasted, “has been a significant and major contributor to this effort.” Indeed, the United States has emerged as a major force in the region, running training camps for Ugandan peacekeepers destined for battle with Somalia’s militants, and hosting eight Predator drones, eight more F-15E fighter jets, and nearly 2,000 U.S. troops and military civilians at a base in neighboring Djibouti.

But despite the array of forces aligned against it, Al-Shabab is demonstrating renewed vigor. “The military strength of al-Shabaab, with an approximately 5,000-strong force, remains arguably intact in terms of operational readiness, chain of command, discipline and communications ability,” according to a report by the U.N. Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea. “By avoiding direct military confrontation, it has preserved the core of its fighting force and resources.”

“At present, al-Shabaab remains the principal threat to peace and security in Somalia,” the report adds. “The organization has claimed responsibility for hundreds of assassinations and attacks involving improvised explosive devices, ambushes, mortar shelling grenades and hit and run tactics.”

Not coincidentally, perhaps, American involvement in the region is again on the rise, as well. Last year, according to the U.N. group, the United States violated the international arms embargo on Somalia by dispatching American special operations forces in Russian M-17 helicopters to northern Somalia in support of operations by the intelligence service of Puntland, a breakaway Somali province. [Continue reading...]

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Somalia’s old problems litter path to new future

Reuters reports: Yusuf Garaad left his comfortable home and job as head of the BBC Somali Service in London to run for the presidency of Somalia when the Horn of Africa nation embraced a plan to shed its image as the archetypal failed state.

He is one of several new faces who have returned home to try and lead the country out of two decades of lawlessness and violence at the hands of gun-toting militias, fanatical Islamist militants and rapacious pirates.

“I watched for so long from afar, not doing anything but reporting and pretending it was not up to me to do something,” Garaad told Reuters in his villa in the capital Mogadishu.

Since the outbreak of civil conflict in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country, but now there is opportunity to close that long chapter in a regionally brokered and U.N.-backed roadmap.

As part of that process, a speaker of a reformed parliament and a new president should have been elected before August 20.

In spite of heavy cajoling by donors, that deadline has been missed, though Western diplomats hope the delay will be just a few weeks. The bigger question is whether the new government can represent a break from the string of ineffective interim administrations of recent years.

Garaad and other newcomer contenders for the presidency are up against a determined phalanx of old-guard politicians. The top leaders of the existing transitional federal government (TFG) are all competing to be president.

So while the end of the interim administration is being touted as a new dawn in Somali politics, there are fears the new government will look much like previous ones, with the same security problems, corruption and fractious clan politics.

“If the current TFG leadership succeeds in manipulating the outcome, the end of the transition will be in some ways a distinction without a difference,” said Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia expert and professor of political science at Davidson College.

By Monday, a new slimmed-down parliament is expected to convene, though not all members will have been appointed. About 220 of the 275 parliamentarians have so far been selected. [Continue reading...]

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Special operations commander-in-chief

When anyone gets rescued — whether they be the victim of a disaster or they were being held hostage — there is reason to celebrate. Even so, the story of the Navy Seals operation that resulted in the release of Jessica Buchanan resonates in other ways as well.

I imagine the Danish aid worker, Poul Hagen Thisted, realized that the odds of him being rescued in a dramatic military operation were boosted by the fact that he was being held alongside a blond young American woman. And it’s hard to imagine that the White House and the Pentagon did not take into consideration any applicable lessons learned from the Jessica Lynch episode. And it’s hard not to think that in an election year President Obama has a political investment in burnishing his image as a president who more than any other has championed the use of special operations forces around the globe.

What the celebrations obscure is that the United States has had an instrumental role in allowing Somalia to fester as an ungoverned state and U.S. counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations will do little to aid that abandoned country’s political recovery. Neither will one rescue operation do anything to improve the chances for other hostages being released. Indeed, their chances may have significantly turned worse.

Around 2 a.m. Wednesday, elders in the Somali village of Galkayo said they began hearing an unusual sound: the whir of helicopters.

It was the culmination of a daring and risky mission by about two dozen members of the Navy Seals to rescue two hostages — an American aid worker and her Danish colleague — held by Somali pirates since October. The commandos had dropped down in parachutes under a cloak of darkness while 8,000 miles away President Obama was preparing to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. The commandos hiked two miles from where they landed, grabbed the hostages and flew them to safety.

For the American military, the mission was characterized by the same ruthless efficiency — and possibly good luck — as the raid on Osama bin Laden in May, which was carried out by commandos from the same elite unit. Nine Somali gunmen were killed; not a single member of the Seals was hurt.

One pirate from the area who seemed to have especially detailed information about the Seal raid said it involved “an electrical net-trap, flattened into the land,” which presumably was the parachute. “Then they started launching missiles,” said the pirate, who spoke by telephone and asked not to be identified.

Pirates operate with total impunity in many parts of lawless Somalia, which has languished without a functioning government for more than 20 years. As naval efforts have intensified on the high seas, stymieing hijackings, Somali pirates seem to be increasingly snatching foreigners on land. Just last week, pirates grabbed another American hostage not far from where the Seal raid took place.

American officials said they were moved to strike in this case because they had received “actionable intelligence” that the health of Jessica Buchanan, the American aid worker, was rapidly deteriorating. The gunmen had just refused $1.5 million to let the two hostages go, Somali elders said, and ransom negotiations had ground to a halt.

Somali pirates have held hostages for months, often in punishing conditions with little food, water or shelter, and past ransoms have topped more than $10 million. One British couple sailing around the world on a little sailboat was kidnapped by pirates from this same patch of central Somalia and held in captivity for more than a year.

President Obama, who Pentagon officials said personally approved the rescue plan and raid, had called several high-level meetings on the case since the two aid workers were kidnapped by gunmen who Somali elders said were part of a well-established pirate gang. “As commander in chief, I could not be prouder of the troops who carried out this mission,” Mr. Obama said in a statement on Wednesday. “The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people.”

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Obama administration considers censoring Twitter

With millions of websites & newspapers disseminating their propaganda, the #US couldn't endure to hear the real truth. What a travesty!

Tweet from Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen, Somalia's Islamist insurgent movement.

How dangerous can 140 characters be?

Apparently if those 140 characters are being fired onto the web through the Twitter account of al Shabib, Somalia’s militant jihadist movement, then the national security of the United States could be in jeopardy.

The New York Times reports:

American officials say they may have the legal authority to demand that Twitter close the Shabab’s account, @HSMPress, which had more than 4,600 followers as of Monday night.

The most immediate effect of the Obama administration’s threat appears to have been that @HSMPress (which has so far only made 114 tweets) has subsequently gained hundreds of new followers.

Is Twitter itself about to take a stand in defense of freedom of speech?

A company spokesman, Matt Graves, said [to a Times reporter] on Monday, “I appreciate your offer for Twitter to provide perspective for the story, but we are declining comment on this one.”

Last Wednesday, the New York Times reported from Nairobi in Kenya:

Somalia’s powerful Islamist insurgents, the Shabab, best known for chopping off hands and starving their own people, just opened a Twitter account, and in the past week they have been writing up a storm, bragging about recent attacks and taunting their enemies.

“Your inexperienced boys flee from confrontation & flinch in the face of death,” the Shabab wrote in a post to the Kenyan Army.

It is an odd, almost downright hypocritical move from brutal militants in one of world’s most broken-down countries, where millions of people do not have enough food to eat, let alone a laptop. The Shabab have vehemently rejected Western practices — banning Western music, movies, haircuts and bras, and even blocking Western aid for famine victims, all in the name of their brand of puritanical Islam — only to embrace Twitter, one of the icons of a modern, networked society.

On top of that, the Shabab clearly have their hands full right now, facing thousands of African Union peacekeepers, the Kenyan military, the Ethiopian military and the occasional American drone strike all at the same time.

But terrorism experts say that Twitter terrorism is part of an emerging trend and that several other Qaeda franchises — a few years ago the Shabab pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda — are increasingly using social media like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter. The Qaeda branch in Yemen has proved especially adept at disseminating teachings and commentary through several different social media networks.

“Social media has helped terrorist groups recruit individuals, fund-raise and distribute propaganda more efficiently than they have in the past,” said Seth G. Jones, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation.

The Times reporter, Jeffrey Gettleman, sounds quite indignant that al Shabib should have the audacity to be using Twitter, so he can hardly have been surprised that his article prompted this exchange between @HSMPress and one of their followers:

@gettleman Where do people get their facts nowadays? I've been to Nairobi & I couldn't see what was going on in Somalia from the hotel roof
An elaborate, sentimental piece of writing accentuating the oft-repeated canard that passes for #Journalism these days!
Assumptions, rumors, opinion, first-hand witnessed events - journalists are writing as if they had front row seats on everything @HSMPress
@habtom Indeed many Journalists appear self-opinionated and act as opinion-manipulators.Their pinion, in my opinion, needs a second opinion!
Somalia is not the only front in the new war on Twitter.

The Washington Post reports on Twitter battles in Afghanistan:

U.S. military officials assigned to the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, as the coalition is known, took the first shot in what has become a near-daily battle waged with broadsides that must be kept to 140 characters.

“How much longer will terrorists put innocent Afghans in harm’s way,” @isafmedia demanded of the Taliban spokesman on the second day of the embassy attack, in which militants lobbed rockets and sprayed gunfire from a building under construction.

“I dnt knw. U hve bn pttng thm n ‘harm’s way’ fr da pst 10 yrs. Razd whole vilgs n mrkts. n stil hv da nrve to tlk bout ‘harm’s way,’ ” responded Abdulqahar Balkhi, one of the Taliban’s Twitter warriors, who uses the handle ­@ABalkhi….

U.S. military officials say the dramatic assault on the diplomatic compound convinced them that they needed to seize the propaganda initiative — and that in Twitter, they had a tool at hand that could shape the narrative much more quickly than news releases or responses to individual queries.

“That was the day ISAF turned the page from being passive,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Badura, a military spokesman, explaining how @isafmedia evolved after the attack. “It used to be a tool to regurgitate the company line. We’ve turned it into what it can be.”

So how’s @isafmedia exploiting the power of Twitter? With tweets like this?

A we’re-winning-the-war tweet like this might sound good inside ISAF’s Twitter Command Center, but I don’t think it’s going to impress anyone else.

The problem the Obama administration is up against is not the threat posed by its adversaries on Twitter; it is that its own ventures into social media are predictably inept. Official tweets lack wit and tend to sound like the clumsy propaganda. But when losing an argument, the solution is not to look for ways to gag your opponent — that’s how dictators operate.

The Pentagon prides itself on its smart bombs. Can’t it come up with a few smart tweets?

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U.S. drone kills 28 in south Somalia

Another attack by a US assassination drone has claimed the lives of at least 28 civilians, while injuring dozens of others in southern Somalia, Press TV reports.

The incident took place in the town of Gilib, 350 kilometers south of Mogadishu, a Press TV correspondent reported on Sunday.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday: The Air Force has been secretly flying Reaper drones on counterterrorism missions from a remote civilian airport in southern Ethi­o­pia as part of a rapidly expanding U.S.-led proxy war against an al-Qaeda affiliate in East Africa, U.S. military officials said.

The Air Force has invested millions of dollars to upgrade an airfield in Arba Minch, Ethi­o­pia, where it has built a small annex to house a fleet of drones that can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs. The Reapers began flying missions earlier this year over neighboring Somalia, where the United States and its allies in the region have been targeting al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group connected to al-Qaeda.

On Friday, the Pentagon said the drones are unarmed and have been used only for surveillance and collecting intelligence, though it would not rule out the possibility that they would be used to launch lethal strikes in the future.

Mindful of the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” debacle in which two U.S. military helicopters were shot down in the Somali capital of Mogadishu and 18 Americans killed, the Obama administration has sought to avoid deploying troops to the country.

As a result, the United States has relied on lethal drone attacks, a burgeoning CIA presence in Mogadishu and small-scale missions carried out by U.S. Special Forces. In addition, the United States has increased its funding for and training of African peacekeeping forces in Somalia that fight al-Shabab.

The Washington Post reported last month that the Obama administration is building a constellation of secret drone bases in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, including one site in Ethi­o­pia. The location of the Ethio­pian base and the fact that it became operational this year, however, have not been previously disclosed. Some bases in the region also have been used to carry out operations against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.

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Fear and starvation in Mogadishu

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writes: Three decades ago, Mohamed Siad Barre, commander of the Supreme Revolutionary Council, head of the politburo of the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party and the last ruler of a functional Somali state, built vast concrete buildings all over Mogadishu. The beautiful city on the coast of the Indian Ocean, with its Arabic and Indian architecture, winding alleyways and Italian colonial-era villas, was dominated by these monuments. They were Third World incarnations of Soviet architecture, exuding power, stability and strength. The buildings – like the literacy campaigns, massive public works programmes and a long war against neighbouring Ethiopia in the late 1970s and early 1980s – were supposed to reflect the wisdom and authority of the dictator.

Sycophants and poets sang Siad Barre’s praises in these buildings, and schoolchildren waved ribbons and flew flags in their courtyards to celebrate his birthday. But in the deserts beyond the city walls nomadic tribes were agitating for war. When the Soviet Union fell and the unpredictable dictator could no longer play his hand in the Cold War game of African dictatorships, he was toppled. His clan was defeated by the clans he had marginalised.

Tribesmen poured into the city and Siad Barre’s state collapsed. The fighters ransacked Mogadishu’s Arab and European quarters and stripped its cinemas and ministries bare, shelled its old stone houses and hammered bullets into the walls and columns of its bars and cafés. Tribal commanders installed themselves as kings of crumbling neighbourhoods. Clan wars fragmented into sub-clan wars and then into sub-sub-clan wars. Tribesmen fought and killed other tribesmen and then turned against men of their own tribe and killed them. The fighters replaced their camels with Japanese pick-up trucks and fitted them with guns, turning them into war wagons. Everyone had been fighting for so long they forgot why they had started fighting in the first place and a miserable lethargy settled in. Generations of young men were born into the war, boys whose real mother was a Kalashnikov and whose only knowledge lay in the killing of other boys.

Twenty years later, Siad Barre’s monuments stand over a city of the dead and dying. They are landmarks in a battleground crisscrossed by front lines. ‘The Hotel Al-Uruba front line,’ people say. ‘There are food shipments at the Ministry of Health line.’ Trees and shrubs grow out of the broken walls and millions of bullets have marked the ruins with hairline cracks. You walk in fear of snipers and kidnappers and then a man comes up to you and points at a crumbling façade and says this was the Italian cinema, or at a pile of ruins on the beach and says that was Bar 54, the best bar in Mogadishu.

In the second decade of fighting, in 2006, when the warlords were exhausted after the long, incestuous wars, an alliance of Islamists called the Islamic Courts Union suppressed the warlords and brought a semblance of stability to Somalia. Most members of the Courts were traditional mullahs teaching the Quran in villages or local clerics dispensing justice according to sharia law in the absence of any other judicial system. Among the Courts there were few jihadis.

The Americans, pursuing their quixotic war on terrorism, hired some of the remaining warlords to work for the CIA, forming the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism. When the alliance was defeated by the Courts the Ethiopian army, with the blessing of the Americans, invaded to crush the Islamists. After fighting a vicious war for more than a year the invading army withdrew, leaving tens of thousands injured and maimed and thousands more dead, most of them civilians. Mogadishu was further destroyed – if that was possible – and tens of thousands joined the long caravan of Somali refugees driven from their homes by indiscriminate shelling.

A corrupt, dysfunctional, ‘transitional’ government was left to rule, guarded by African Union troops. But the worst outcome of the Ethiopian invasion was the rise of al-Shabaab, a small faction of the Courts at the beginning but a formidable power by the end of the war. They were supported by the Eritreans, the Ethiopians’ nemesis, and by 2009 controlled most of southern Somalia and Mogadishu.

That was the first year the rain failed.

Al-Shabaab ruled most of the city and their fighters were young. They imposed a brutal and arbitrary punishment code and beheaded their enemies. The government and its African backers controlled a small sliver of land to the west of the city and used it to try and shell the Islamists into submission.

The war continued and the rain failed again.

This summer al-Shabaab – weakened by internal divisions and the drought and under pressure from African Union troops armed with tanks and artillery – withdrew from Mogadishu. The government and African Union troops took over their positions but the rain refused to come and the city filled with the starving.

Badbaado means ‘salvation’ in Somali. It’s the name of a stretch of ruins and wild scrub on the outskirts of Mogadishu a few hundred metres from the closest al-Shabaab position. Thousands of tents fill the area: it is now the biggest refugee camp in Somalia.

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$55 billion — the price of failure in Somalia

John Norris and Bronwyn Bruton write: On the morning of Oct. 4, a truck bomb exploded on a well-trafficked street outside the Ministry of Education in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, killing upwards of 80 bystanders, many of them university students. The attack brought an end to the relative lull that had held in Mogadishu since August, when fighters for the al-Shabab guerrilla forces withdrew from the city, and offered a stark reminder that the world’s most notorious failed state remains just that.

Somalia’s ruin can’t simply be chalked up as a case of Western neglect. For decades, the United States and international organizations have poured money into Somalia despite its relative geopolitical insignificance — first as a Cold War bulwark, then as a humanitarian emergency, and now as an effort to contain crime and terrorism. Just how much has Somalia cost us? To figure out the true financial burden that Somalia’s conflict has imposed on the world since 1991, we used a variety of official and unofficial sources, combined with some educated guesswork, and came up with an estimate of $55 billion. That figure includes everything from aid supplied by the Red Cross and defaulted World Bank loans to naval patrols off Somalia’s piracy-plagued coast and CIA-run detention facilities within the country.

$55 billion may be modest in comparison with the cost of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan — which together are likely to end up costing the United States more than $1 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office — but what’s remarkable is how little we have to show for it. For all the treasure expended there, Somalia is no closer to stability than it has been at earlier points in its two-plus decades of chaos. The country is currently experiencing the worst famine the world has seen in two decades, with more than three-quarters of a million people at grave risk of starvation, and remains riven by civil conflict, piracy, and extremism.

The world’s approach to Somalia has long been trapped in an unhappy middle: It has been insufficiently robust and well-designed to resolve the country’s conflicts but far too heavy-handed and frequent to allow the country to resolve its own problems. An entire generation of Somalis now views the “state,” whether it is the Transitional Federal Government or al-Shabab, as a largely predatory institution to be feared, not as a source of stability. Perhaps more than anything, the spending on Somalia demonstrates how the world — and Washington in particular — keeps groping for quick tactical fixes while failing to embrace the sensible diplomacy and the kinds of patient engagement that might help Somalia achieve peace.

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Obama’s secret war in Somalia where ‘the Americans are creating a monster’

“Mercenary” is a word with lots of ugly connotations — not least for men who’ve been jailed for being mercenaries.

So, Bancroft Global Development, a private company based in Washington DC currently providing “military services” for the US State Department and the UN in Mogadishu, doesn’t like the term “mercenaries.” It describes itself instead as a non-governmental organization dedicated to finding permanent solutions to violent conflict. It also has what might be a unique distinction of operating in the United States as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit charitable organization.

The Obama administration clearly doesn’t feel comfortable employing mercenaries or “mentors,” as Bancroft’s soldiers call themselves, and so they get paid by the governments of Uganda and Burundi who then get reimbursed by the State Department.

Richard Rouget, the French-born South-African Bancroft employee who is the primary source for the New York Times article cited below, let’s the company’s PR mask fall momentarily and reveals a 19th century colonial mentality when he refers to his Somali adversaries as “savages”.

In the 1970s, Rouget is said to have been active in neo-fascist organizations such as Groupe Union Défense (GUD).

This is how GUD (founded in 1968) and a similar ultra-right group, Unité Radicale, were described in The Guardian:

Both the GUD and UR, founded in 1998, are rabidly racist, anti-semitic and anti-American, declared enemies of “global, cosmopolitan finance”, supportive of the September 11 attacks and believers in la France blanche .

While they profess to be genuine “nationalist revolutionaries” rather than neo-Nazis, the paraphernalia of the Third Reich is never far from their gatherings.

Meanwhile, through its creation of the Somali National Security Agency — an intelligence organization financed largely by the CIA — the Obama administration is backing what one Somali official says is becoming a “government within a government.”

“No one, not even the president, knows what the NSA is doing,” he said. “The Americans are creating a monster.”

The New York Times reports:

Richard Rouget, a gun for hire over two decades of bloody African conflict, is the unlikely face of the American campaign against militants in Somalia.

A husky former French Army officer, Mr. Rouget, 51, commanded a group of foreign fighters during Ivory Coast’s civil war in 2003, was convicted by a South African court of selling his military services and did a stint in the presidential guard of the Comoros Islands, an archipelago plagued by political tumult and coup attempts.

Now Mr. Rouget works for Bancroft Global Development, an American private security company that the State Department has indirectly financed to train African troops who have fought a pitched urban battle in the ruins of this city against the Shabab, the Somali militant group allied with Al Qaeda.

The company plays a vital part in the conflict now raging inside Somalia, a country that has been effectively ungoverned and mired in chaos for years. The fight against the Shabab, a group that United States officials fear could someday carry out strikes against the West, has mostly been outsourced to African soldiers and private companies out of reluctance to send American troops back into a country they hastily exited nearly two decades ago.

“We do not want an American footprint or boot on the ground,” said Johnnie Carson, the Obama administration’s top State Department official for Africa.

A visible United States military presence would be provocative, he said, partly because of Somalia’s history as a graveyard for American missions — including the “Black Hawk Down” episode in 1993, when Somali militiamen killed 18 American service members.

Still, over the past year, the United States has quietly stepped up operations inside Somalia, American officials acknowledge. The Central Intelligence Agency, which largely finances the country’s spy agency, has covertly trained Somali intelligence operatives, helped build a large base at Mogadishu’s airport — Somalis call it “the Pink House” for the reddish hue of its buildings or “Guantánamo” for its ties to the United States — and carried out joint interrogations of suspected terrorists with their counterparts in a ramshackle Somali prison.

And while Washington continues to look at Somalia through the mind-numbing prism of “global terrorism,” the people of this war-torn nation struggle to survive.

A staggering ten percent of children under five are now dying from starvation every 11 weeks.

AFP reports:

Ten per cent of Somali children aged under five are dying every 11 weeks in the country’s devastating famine, which is spreading faster than aid agencies can cope with, UN officials warned on Wednesday.

The UN representative to Somalia also told the UN Security Council that warlords will take control of areas of Mogadishu abandoned by Islamist insurgents last weekend unless the transitional government quickly gets a grip.

The envoy, Augustine Mahiga, said about half the Somali population, about 3.7 million people, are now at risk from famine. The UN estimates that more than 12 million are affected across East Africa.

Across the famine zone, more than 13 children out of every 10,000 aged under five die each day, Mahiga said. ‘This means that 10 per cent of children under five are dying every 11 weeks. These figures are truly heart-wrenching,’ the envoy told the council, appealing for greater international assistance.

The UN has asked for one billion dollars for Somalia, but Catherine Bragg, the deputy UN emergency relief coordinator, said less than half the sum has been raised.

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Somalia famine’s devastation

The Associated Press reports:

Kaltum Mohamed sits beside a small mound of earth, alone with her thoughts. It is her child’s grave—and there are three others like it.

Just three weeks ago, Mohamed was the mother of five young children. But the famine that has rocked Somalia has claimed the lives of four of them. Only a daughter remains. The others starved to death before Mohamed’s eyes as she and her husband trekked to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in search of aid.

Thousands of parents are grieving in Somalia and in refugee camps in neighboring countries amid Somalia’s worst drought in 60 years.

The drought and famine in Somalia have killed more than 29,000 children under the age of 5 in the last 90 days in southern Somalia alone, according to U.S. estimates. The U.N. says 640,000 Somali children are acutely malnourished, suggesting the death toll of small children will rise.

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Somalia: victim of war, famine and a pestilence of policy

Carne Ross writes:

The news from Somalia is grim. Last week, the UN declared a famine in two southern areas, calling the food crisis Africa’s worst since 1991-92 (which was also in Somalia). The UN estimates that a staggering 3.2 million people need urgent assistance.

The immediate cause of the crisis was the recurrent failure of seasonal rains across the Horn of Africa. But it will be exacerbated by the continuing instability in Somalia, where the internationally recognised (and appointed) government controls but a few blocks of the capital, Mogadishu. The rest of the country is under the sway of various other groups, including the al-Shabaab militia. For most Somalis, the famine represents a deeper trough of an already existing and perpetual misery of abject poverty and instability.

International policy to stabilise Somalia has been a total failure. Yet, the same policies persist. In 2000, the “international community” set up what it thought was a legitimate government in Somalia, in an attempt to create a political consensus where none existed. Today, the so-called Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is neither transitional nor federal, nor even really a government, in that it offers no prospect of a transition to a more durable alternative, does not represent the rest of Somalia in a meaningful way, and, as a government, provides no services to its people, who did not elect it, in any case. The TFG is, in the words of a recent International Crisis Group report, “incompetent, corrupt and hobbled by weak leadership” and should be given a deadline to shape up, or be removed. Very few observers expect it to shape up: the current system pays the cabal who control it far too well.

Given the total absence of effective central authority, it cannot be a surprise that Somalia is fracturing into different statelets, some of which have existed as separate – and peaceful – entities for some time. In the north, Somaliland (which, for full disclosure, Independent Diplomat advises) declared its independence at the end of the civil war in 1991. Since then, it has built its own democratic institutions, held respectable elections and is governed peacefully by a new government that is widely respected. To Somaliland’s east, Puntland appears to be establishing itself as a separate state. And in the more lawless south, smaller self-governing enclaves are springing up, in Galmudug, and in Jubaland, along the Kenyan border.

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Ground your warplanes, save the Horn of Africa

Ramzy Baroud writes:

“When you are hungry, cold is a killer, and the people here are starving and helpless.” Not many of us can relate to such a statement, but millions of ‘starving and helpless’ people throughout the Horn of Africa know fully the pain of elderly Somali mother, Batula Moalim.

Moalim, quoted by the British Telegraph, was not posing as spokesperson to the estimated 11 million people (per United Nations figures) who are currently in dire need of food. About 440,000 of those affected by the world’s “worst humanitarian disaster” dwell in a state of complete despair in Dadaab, a complex of three camps in Kenya. Imagine the fate of those not lucky enough to reach these camps, people who remain chronically lacking in resources, and, in the case of Somalia, trapped in a civil war.

All that Batula Moalim was pleading for was “plastic sheeting for shelter, as well as for food and medicine.”

It is disheartening, to say the least, when such disasters don’t represent an opportunity for political, military or other strategic gains, subsequently, enthusiasm to ‘intervene’ peters out so quickly.

UN officials from the World Food Programme (WFP) are not asking for much: $500 million to stave off the effects of what is believed to be the worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa in 60 years. This is not an impossible feat, especially when one considers the geographic extent of the drought and creeping famine. Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya are all affected, and terribly so. Sudan and Eretria are also not far from the center of this encroaching disaster.

The Guardian reports:

Somali Islamist rebels have denied lifting a ban on certain aid groups in drought-affected areas and rejected the UN’s claim that there is a famine in the region.

The rebel group al-Shabab, which controls much of southern Somalia, had said earlier this month that it would allow all humanitarian groups access to assist with the drought response. But al-Shabab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage has told a local radio station that the ban on specific aid agencies, which was imposed in 2009 and 2010, still stands. At the time, the rebels accused various humanitarian groups, including the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), which is expected to lead the current drought response, of damaging the local economy, being anti-Muslim, and of spying for the government.

“Those earlier banned groups are not welcome to serve in our area of control,” Rage said on Friday.

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The CIA’s secret sites in Somalia

Jeremy Scahill writes:

Nestled in a back corner of Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport is a sprawling walled compound run by the Central Intelligence Agency. Set on the coast of the Indian Ocean, the facility looks like a small gated community, with more than a dozen buildings behind large protective walls and secured by guard towers at each of its four corners. Adjacent to the compound are eight large metal hangars, and the CIA has its own aircraft at the airport. The site, which airport officials and Somali intelligence sources say was completed four months ago, is guarded by Somali soldiers, but the Americans control access. At the facility, the CIA runs a counterterrorism training program for Somali intelligence agents and operatives aimed at building an indigenous strike force capable of snatch operations and targeted “combat” operations against members of Al Shabab, an Islamic militant group with close ties to Al Qaeda.

As part of its expanding counterterrorism program in Somalia, the CIA also uses a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters, where prisoners suspected of being Shabab members or of having links to the group are held. Some of the prisoners have been snatched off the streets of Kenya and rendered by plane to Mogadishu. While the underground prison is officially run by the Somali NSA, US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners. The existence of both facilities and the CIA role was uncovered by The Nation during an extensive on-the-ground investigation in Mogadishu. Among the sources who provided information for this story are senior Somali intelligence officials; senior members of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG); former prisoners held at the underground prison; and several well-connected Somali analysts and militia leaders, some of whom have worked with US agents, including those from the CIA. A US official, who confirmed the existence of both sites, told The Nation, “It makes complete sense to have a strong counterterrorism partnership” with the Somali government.

The CIA presence in Mogadishu is part of Washington’s intensifying counterterrorism focus on Somalia, which includes targeted strikes by US Special Operations forces, drone attacks and expanded surveillance operations. The US agents “are here full time,” a senior Somali intelligence official told me. At times, he said, there are as many as thirty of them in Mogadishu, but he stressed that those working with the Somali NSA do not conduct operations; rather, they advise and train Somali agents. “In this environment, it’s very tricky. They want to help us, but the situation is not allowing them to do [it] however they want. They are not in control of the politics, they are not in control of the security,” he adds. “They are not controlling the environment like Afghanistan and Iraq. In Somalia, the situation is fluid, the situation is changing, personalities changing.”

According to well-connected Somali sources, the CIA is reluctant to deal directly with Somali political leaders, who are regarded by US officials as corrupt and untrustworthy. Instead, the United States has Somali intelligence agents on its payroll. Somali sources with knowledge of the program described the agents as lining up to receive $200 monthly cash payments from Americans. “They support us in a big way financially,” says the senior Somali intelligence official. “They are the largest [funder] by far.”

According to former detainees, the underground prison, which is staffed by Somali guards, consists of a long corridor lined with filthy small cells infested with bedbugs and mosquitoes. One said that when he arrived in February, he saw two white men wearing military boots, combat trousers, gray tucked-in shirts and black sunglasses. The former prisoners described the cells as windowless and the air thick, moist and disgusting. Prisoners, they said, are not allowed outside. Many have developed rashes and scratch themselves incessantly. Some have been detained for a year or more. According to one former prisoner, inmates who had been there for long periods would pace around constantly, while others leaned against walls rocking.

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Blackwater founder backs mercenary crusade in Somalia

The New York Times reports:

Erik Prince, the founder of the international security giant Blackwater Worldwide, is backing an effort by a controversial South African mercenary firm to insert itself into Somalia’s bloody civil war by protecting government leaders, training Somali troops, and battling pirates and Islamic militants there, according to American and Western officials.

The disclosure comes as Mr. Prince sells off his interest in the company he built into a behemoth with billions of dollars in American government contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, work that mired him in lawsuits and investigations amid reports of reckless behavior by his operatives, including causing the deaths of civilians in Iraq. His efforts to wade into the chaos of Somalia appear to be Mr. Prince’s latest endeavor to remain at the center of a campaign against Islamic radicalism in some of the world’s most war-ravaged corners.

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Obama administration apparently complicit in the torture of an American teenager

Glenn Greenwald writes:

Gulet Mohamed is an 18-year-old American citizen whose family is Somalian. His parents moved with him to the U.S. when he was 2 or 3 years old, and he has lived in the U.S. ever since. In March, 2009, he went to study Arabic and Islam in Yemen (in Sana’a, the nation’s capital), and, after several weeks, left (at his mother’s urging) and went to visit his mother’s family in Somalia, staying with his uncle there for several months. Roughly one year ago, he left Somalia and traveled to Kuwait to stay with other family members who live there. Like many teenagers who reach early adulthood, he was motivated in his travels by a desire to see the world, to study, and to get to know his family’s ancestral homeland and his faraway relatives.

At all times, Mohamed traveled on an American passport and had valid visas for all the countries he visited. He has never been arrested nor — until two weeks ago — was he ever involved with law enforcement in any way, including the entire time he lived in the U.S.

Approximately two weeks ago (on December 20), Mohamed went to the airport in Kuwait to have his visa renewed, as he had done every three months without incident for the last year. This time, however, he was told by the visa officer that his name had been marked in the computer, and after waiting five hours, he was taken into a room and interrogated by officials who refused to identify themselves. They then handcuffed and blindfolded him and drove him to some other locale. That was the start of a two-week-long, still ongoing nightmare during which he was imprisoned for a week in an unknown location by unknown captors, relentlessly interrogated, and severely beaten and threatened with even worse forms of torture.

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