What the NYT Left Out About Obama’s ‘Secret War’ in Somalia
With hundreds of US special ops now in Somalia, Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford recount the more than 2 decades of US involvement
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The New York Times is reporting that the US is escalating what it calls a secret war in Somalia against Al Shabab. The article report says that the US became more involved in Somalia after 9/11 in order to go after Al Qaeda. But besides a brief mention of the Black Hawk down incident, the New York Times report left out why the US was there in Somalia in the first place in the early 1990s.
Joining us now to give us a little bit more context than the New York Times gave us, is Glen Ford. Glen is cofounder and executive editor of the Black Agenda Report and the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of US Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion. Glen, thank you so much for joining us today.
GLEN FORD: Thank you for the invitation.
PERIES: So Glen, what is the context for the long term US involvement in Somalia?
FORD: I guess the New York Times calls this a shadow war and that’s one of those phrases that people like those at the Times use when they’re talking about a conflict that they don’t cover much. The United States has been trying to control events in Somalia since the early 90’s since the Somali national government collapsed and the US tried to go in there with all 4 feet and kind of window dressing of international support but was driven out after it’s humiliation in that Black Hawk Down situation in 1993. But the US never left Somalia.
It continued to operate there through a succession of paid warlords. It financed various warlords in various parts of the country. Some of whom fought each other for a very, very long time, continuing the chaos in that country. That chaos did not cease until early 2006 when finally, a grassroots Somali moderate Islamist organization called the Islamic Courts succeeded in defeating the warlords that were in the pay of the CIA and bringing a semblance of peace at least, to southern and central Somalia including the capital of Mogadishu.
That was not to the liking of the United States and it was not to the liking of Ethiopia, Somalia’s neighbor and its historic rival in that region. So in December of 2006, the Ethiopians invaded and they were backed by the airpower and the sea power and land forces of the United States. In fact, it was reported that US special operations troops were with the Invading Ethiopian forces down to the company level. So this was a deeply joint US Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. That invasion succeeded in defeating the Islamic Courts but it continued with a resistance by a youth group which called itself Shabaab.
Ethiopians took very heavy casualties from the Shabaab who at that stage was certainly fighting as national resistance fighters against invaders. The Ethiopians then partially withdrew. The United States then gathered regional forces from Kenya and Uganda and it prompted the African Union to launch what is called an African Union peace keeping union to militarily go up against the Shabaab and to back a Somali government that was handpicked by the United States and endorse by what they call the international community but that really means the United States and Europe. And it’s the United States and Europe that of course pay for the African Union’s peace keeping mission in Somalia. The New York Times’s dealing with the operations that have deepened in Somalia since.
The United States now routinely brings in hundreds of special operations troops. It also has marines on what looks like a permanent kind of presence in Somalia. One of the countries that’s involved in the African Union occupation of Somalia is Djibouti which is really just a French colony, a neighbor of Somalia that serves as a base for the French and for the Americans. The base in Djibouti is what the Americans call their only permanent base in Africa. But in fact the Americans have plenty of bases and they have plenty of bases in Somalia.
One of the interesting facts of the New York Times story is the report that US private military corporations, that is corporate mercenaries are training Somali soldiers in a northern part of the country called Puntland which has broken away from Somalia. If that is true, then the United States is encouraging the fragmentation of Somalia as well. Those troops that are trained in Puntland by US military corporations are then given more training by US marines in Mogadishu.
So this looks like a permanent US presence of Somalia. It doesn’t look like a shadow operation at all. Since hundreds of US special ops are accompanying Somali forces and other African Union forces on operations and that there is a steady drum beat of US bombing attacks in support of that, we’re looking at a major operation that looks much more like the early days of Vietnam than some kind of shadow war.
PERIES: And in the Times article, they also characterized a strategy in Somalia as emblematic of Obama’s foreign policy in general. As we reach the closing months of his presidency, what is his legacy of the use of force and maintenance of this kind of stuff in the Middle East and also in Africa?
FORD: Well I don’t know if it’s what some folks call mission creep or just a creepy mission but what the United States has done under President Obama was bring in these various coordinated forces and have them operated under a blanket policy that Obama calls defensive. In other words, this occupation of Somalia which is a classic occupation kind of operation is described by the United States as a defensive operation is that the United States has the right to claim the right to bring in its bombers and its personnel and operate freely in the country, even though it is declared no belligerency against that country. That is war on the cuff with a visage of legal legitimacy. That is probably the model that the New York Times is talking about. A model that selects any part of the world but especially Africa for operations that the US calls illegal and defensive but are really various stages of occupation, deep penetration, never exiting US military.
PERIES: Glen finally, this past week, three white men in Kansas were arrested for attempting to bomb an apartment complex where hundreds of Somali immigrants lived. Is this an example of how interventions are broadly to domestic terrorism as Reverend Wright, chickens coming home to roost?
Ford: Yes, well the United States has always had domestic terrorism. We call them lynching’s and there are some elements of the US population that does not need any external stimulus in order to engage in that kind of domestic terrorism. I think that maybe the question is, where do you send the domestic terrorists? Where is the internal Guantanamo for these kinds of people?
PERIES: Alright Glen, I thank you so much for joining us today.
FORD: Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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