Highlighting U.S. intervention in the further destruction of  Somalia and as Ugandans mourn a terrorist attack from Somali militants and Fareed Zakaria noting the non-threat of ‘failed states’ and the imminent blowback induced by the failed missions of nation building.

19 July 2010 | InfoShop News

Al-Shabaab, the primary resistance faction to the West-backed potential monopoly of force in Somalia, has claimed responsibility for the coordinated bombing attacks in Kampala, Uganda that killed an estimated 74 people on July 11. Sheik Ali Rage, a recognized spokesperson for the group, said that it was because “we warned them to stop massacring our people and they ignored that”.

“What happened in Kampala is just the beginning,” Mohamed Abdi Godane, the recognized leader of Shabaab said in a July 15 radio broadcast, the Agence France Press reported, adding:

The Shabaab—fighting Somalia’s Western-backed transitional government—said the blasts were in retaliation for the presence of more than 3,000 Ugandan troops in the embattled African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

“We are telling all Muslims and particularly the people of Mogadishu that those martyred in AMISOM shelling will be avenged,” he added.

‘Unintended consequences’

AMISOM forces in Somalia total an estimated 7,000 forces—3,000 of which from Uganda—and despite Shabaab stating its clear reasons for the worst attack in the region since the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Kampala is ready to pledge another 2,000 troops to the mission of enforcing a West-picked government to which the Somalis do not consent. “In the long run not only is Uganda’s presence in the nation provoking such attacks against its nation, but it is also providing an air of legitimacy to al-Shabaab among the Somali population, as the group can credibly claim to be retaliating against the civilian killings conducted by Ugandan troops on a fairly regular basis,” Jason Ditz wrote the day after the attack at AntiWar News.

“American military advisers have been helping oversee the training of Somali government soldiers in Uganda,” Jeffrey Gettleman wrote in a June report at The New York Times highlighting its training of boy soldiers as young as nine-years-old.

The magazine Foreign Policy‘s “2010 Failed States Index” places Somalia at the top of its list for the third year in a row—“a testament not only to the depth of the country’s long-running political and humanitarian disaster, but also, as James Traub writes, to the international community’s inability to find an answer”.

Fareed Zakaria, international editor at Newsweek and host of “Fareed Zakaria GPS” at CNN, wrote today that “analysts once again are warning that failed states are a mortal threat to American national security”, but “the case of Somalia and al-Shabaab proves precisely the opposite”. More importantly: “The trouble with trying to fix failed states is that it implicates the United States in a vast nation-building effort in countries where—by definition—the odds of success are low and the risk of unintended consequences is very high.”

The primary examples of this are Afghanistan and, of course, how foreign intervention in Somalia has worsened conditions and are antithetical to stated goals, but others facing exponentially lesser-scaled interventions aren’t even liberally perceived as threats, he added:

The chief exhibit for this far-reaching claim was, of course, Afghanistan, which descended into chaos in the 1990s and became a staging ground for Al Qaeda as it prepared to attack America. But Afghanistan’s story is actually a bit more complicated. The Taliban came to power there with support from the Pakistani military, which had long supported radical Islamists. The group also received private and public support from Saudi Arabia, which viewed it as a convenient dumping ground, far from home, for its own radicals. Today there are very few Qaeda members in Afghanistan—between 60 and 100, says C.I.A. head Leon Panetta—and Al Qaeda operates out of Pakistan. As the scholar Ken Menkhaus has pointed out, global terrorism seems to profit less from failed states and more from weak ones, like Pakistan, where some element of the regime is actively assisting the terrorists. After all, there are many drastically failed states (Burma, Congo, Haiti) that pose no global terrorist threat.


Somalia highlights the complexity of almost every approach to failed states. If Washington goes after the militants aggressively, it polarizes the political landscape and energizes the radicals, who can then claim to be nationalists fighting American imperialism. If it talks to them, it is accused of empowering jihadis. The real answer, argue many, is to strengthen the state’s capacity so that the government has greater legitimacy and the opposition gets discredited. But how easy is it to fast-forward political modernization, compressing into a few years what has taken decades, if not centuries, in the West? All these dilemmas are on full display in Afghanistan right now.

What to do in Somalia? In a thoughtful report, Bronwyn Bruton of the Council on Foreign Relations makes the case for “constructive disengagement.” The idea is to watch the situation carefully for signs of real global terrorism—which so far are limited. Al-Shabab’s “links” with Al Qaeda seem to be mostly rhetoric on both sides. But if they become real and deadly, be willing to strike. This would not be so difficult. Somalia has no mountains or jungles, making it relatively hospitable for counterterrorism operations. Just be careful not to become a player in the country’s internal political dynamics. “We have a limited capacity to influence events in Somalia, to influence them positively,” says Bruton. “But we have an almost unlimited capacity to make a mess of things.”

Where Mr. Zakaria holds back is the extent to which the U.S. is fueling the Somali fire. Though no combat troops have been officially committed to occupying Somalia, the Horn of Africa is one of 75 nation-states where Special Operations Forces (S.O.F.) are deployed in, what Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe at The Washington Post, a “secret war” waged by Washington—15 more territories than the Bush Administration by the end of 2008.

Oil empire

In 1993, Mark Fineman reported at the Los Angeles Times, among many, that Somalia is a potential motherlode of untapped oil and natural gas reserves. The report highlighted that before a coup deposed it’s so-called ‘communist’ totalitarian dictatorship in January 1991, most of those resources were promised to multinational corporations “quietly sitting on a prospective fortune in exclusive concessions to explore and exploit tens of millions of acres of the Somali countryside”:

According to documents obtained by The Times, nearly two-thirds of Somalia was allocated to the American oil giants Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips in the final years before Somalia’s pro-U.S. President Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown and the nation plunged into chaos in January, 1991. Industry sources said the companies holding the rights to the most promising concessions are hoping that the Bush Administration’s decision to send U.S. troops to safeguard aid shipments to Somalia will also help protect their multimillion-dollar investments there.

All U.S. troops were reportedly withdrawn in March 1994 after the infamous “Black Hawk Down” episode—when “when 18 U.S. soldiers were killed by Somali militiamen”—was on the public stage until the U.S. “launched air strikes against suspected Al Qaeda operatives”, backing the December 2006 invasion by Ethiopia, Xan Rice and Suzanne Goldberg reported in January 2007 at the London Guardian.

Between the U.S. withdrawal and Washington’s participation in the 2006 invasion, the installation of a puppet government ready to be installed in Mogadishu and the S.O.F. mission, Somali society grew to social indicators higher than they were before the 1991 coup. Still a hellhole by general standards in the West, but the pinnacle of Somali history, nonetheless, as Stefan Molyneux discussed in a study he presented in early 2009.

Authority for the footprint: a Bushian leftover

S.O.F. explicitly acts under the authority of the executive branch in Washington through the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) without congressional approval because the acts are extrajudicial assassinations, kidnappings and home invasions. Seymour Hersh, investigative journalist at The New Yorker, said last year that while researching his upcoming book, he learned JSOC was Bush Administration Vice President Dick Cheney’s “executive assassination wing” of the government, “accountable to no one”.

The deployments are legally justified by the Obama Administration by the Al Qaeda Network Exective Order (AQN ExOrd) signed by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2004, Jeremy Scahill reported in early June at The Nation adding: “The AQN ExOrd was intended to cut through bureaucratic and legal processes, allowing U.S. special forces to move into denied areas or countries beyond the official battle zones of Iraq and Afghanistan” by serving as the “justification for special forces operating covertly—and lethally—across the globe”. In other words: it’s only legal, ethical and moral because the president says so.

One course “close to” the S.O.F. said, Mr. Scahill reported, that the AQN ExOrd “spells out that we reserve the right to unilaterally act against Al Qaeda and its affiliates anywhere in the world that they operate”, adding that: “the Pentagon is already empowered to do these things, so let JSOC off the leash. And that’s what this White House has done.”

“That’s essentially what they have where they’re chasing someone in Somalia and he moves over into Ethiopia or Eritrea, you can go after him,” said the source. Therefore, the justification for overt, inflammatory U.S. intervention in Somalia—solely by the president’s arbitrary orders—is always that al-Shabaab is within the ‘Al Qaeda Network’. There could be truth to this because there are two networks: one is an extremely small one, virtually insignificant, of people affiliated with Osama bin Laden; the other is the C.I.A. database, the original ‘Al Qaeda’, of burned militant assets of the U.S. government and associates of those people who is basically whoever the C.I.A. arbitrarily chooses to place in the database. Like all lies, there’s an element of truth and this is as far as it goes, according to the facts presented, which are very little.

“The Obama administration took the 2003 order and went above and beyond,” he added. “The world is the battlefield, we’ve returned to that [in the Obama administration’s strategy]. We were moving away from it for a little bit, but [2003 Bush Administration Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone’s] ‘preparing the battlefield’ is still alive and well. It’s embraced by this administration.”

Boy soldiers

S.O.F. operations extend to recruiting and training—bribing—locals to follow its orders, Mr. Scahill added:

While some of the special forces missions are centered around training of allied forces, often that line is blurred. In some cases, “training” is used as a cover for unilateral, direct action. “It’s often done under the auspices of training so that they can go anywhere. It’s brilliant. It is essentially what we did in the 60s,” says a special forces source. “Remember the ‘training mission’ in Vietnam? That’s how it morphs.”

This training knows little limits, as thousands of pre-adolescent boys are “working for a military that is substantially armed and financed by the United States”, Mr. Gettleman reported. “According to Somali human rights groups and United Nations officials, the Somali government, which relies on assistance from the West to survive, is fielding hundreds of children or more on the front lines, some as young as 9,” adding:

Child soldiers are deployed across the globe, but according to the United Nations, the Somali government is among the “most persistent violators” of sending children into war, finding itself on a list with notorious rebel groups like the [Ugandan] Lord’s Resistance Army.

Somali government officials concede that they have not done the proper vetting. Officials also revealed that the United States government was helping pay their soldiers, an arrangement American officials confirmed, raising the possibility that the wages for some of these child combatants may have come from American taxpayers.


Several American officials also said that they were concerned about the use of child soldiers and that they were pushing their Somali counterparts to be more careful. But when asked how the American government could guarantee that American money was not being used to arm children, one of the officials said, “I don’t have a good answer for that.”

According to Unicef, only two countries have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the use of soldiers younger than 15: the United States and Somalia. The United States did ratify a later agreement, known as an optional protocol to the convention, aimed at preventing the recruitment and use of child soldiers.


All across this lawless land, smooth, hairless faces peek out from behind enormous guns. In blown-out buildings, children chamber bullets twice the size of their fingers. In neighborhoods by the sea, they run checkpoints and face down four-by-four trucks, though they can barely see over the hood.

Somali government officials admit that in the rush to build a standing army, they did not discriminate.

“I’ll be honest,” said a Somali government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the subject, “we were trying to find anyone who could carry a gun.”


Ali Sheikh Yassin, vice-chairman of Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu, said that about 20 percent of government troops (thought to number 5,000 to 10,000) were children and that about 80 percent of the rebels were. The leading insurgent group, which has drawn increasingly close to Al Qaeda, is called the Shabaab, which means youth in Arabic.

“These kids can be so easily brainwashed,” Mr. Ali said. “They don’t even have to be paid.”

The report highlights the story of 12-year-old Awil Salah Osman who “prowls the streets” of Mogadishu—“looking like so many other boys, with ripped-up clothes, thin limbs and eyes eager for attention and affection”—“shouldering a fully automatic, fully loaded Kalashnikov assault rifle”. The gun “weighs about 10 pounds” and because the “strap digs into his bony shoulders”, he is “constantly shifting it from one side to the other with a grimace”. He gets help from “his comrade Ahmed Hassan, who is 15”, who “was sent to Uganda more than two years ago for army training, when he was 12, though his claim could not be independently verified”.

Washington is also the “biggest contributor of humanitarian aid in Somalia”, USA Today reported in February. But Mr. Gettleman’s follow-up included that it “has given the Somali military millions of dollars in arms and paid soldiers’ salaries”, which “might violate the Child Soldier Prevention provision of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008; the Durbin-Coburn Child Soldiers Accountability Act; and the Durbin-Coburn Human Rights Enforcement Act”.

The massacres in Uganda by Shabaab were deplorable acts of murder against non-combatant individuals just trying to enjoy a soccer match and were entirely cynical. But for everyday people to stand up against Shabaab on the ground, where it matters, U.S. support for the installed Somali “president” and notorious human rights violators in Kampala, the “risk of unintended consequences” are not just “very high”, as Mr. Zakaria articulated, but inevitable. The support forces Somalis and Ugandans, alike, to be further depressed with nothing for which to fight—trapped in a situation with only faction against which to fight, forcing them to fight for worse or fight for nothing.

A people’s liberation movement in Somalia might actually result in people wanting compensation or a profit share of Big Oil drilling. Preventing this, no doubt, a fully intended consequence of the U.S. intervention.

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