Secret CIA Somalia plot raises stink

It was recently revealed that the CIA had come up with a plot to secretly finance the warlords so they would assist the US in countering the activities of and capturing suspected terrorists in the region with ties to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network.

American State Department officials have been desperately trying to distance the administration from the fiasco and have even gone to the extent of slamming the CIA’s project in Somalia saying it has thwarted counter-terrorism efforts and instead empowered the militants it was meant to marginalise.

American policy in the Horn of Africa has been to back warlords and oppose Islamist-backed militants – a policy that recently suffered a major blow when militias gained a foothold in the capital, Mogadishu.

It has been alleged that the CIA project was run from the Agency’s office in Nairobi, Kenya, and channelled hundreds of thousands of US$ to Somali warlords over the past year in the hope that this would expedite the capture and/or assassination of people suspected to have Al Qaeda ties.

This project has reportedly entailed occasional trips to Somalia by Nairobi-based CIA case officers, who landed on warlord-controlled airstrips in Mogadishu with large amounts of money for distribution to Somali militias.

A State Department official was quoted in the international media as saying the CIA policy was reached after the government made it clear it would not risk making a large military personnel outlay in Somalia following the disastrous campaign of 1993-94.

At that time, the US deployed forces in Somalia hoping to capture Mohammed Farah Aidid but left hastily after 18 soldiers were killed and the US increasingly looked like it would become bogged down in the web of fighting gripping the Horn of Africa.

The CIA action could have been in violation of UN resolutions on the supply of finance and arms to Somali fighters.

In May this year, the UN Security Council issued a report detailing the competing efforts of several nations, including Ethiopia and Eritrea, to provide Somali militias and the transitional Somali government with money and arms – activities the report said violated the international arms embargo on Somalia.

Part of the report read: “Arms, military materiel and financial support continue to flow like a river to these various actors.”

The UN report also cited what it called “clandestine support for a so-called antiterrorist coalition”, in what appeared to be a reference to the American policy.

Somalia’s interim president, Abdullahi Yusuf, first criticized American support for Mogadishu’s warlords in early May during a trip to Sweden when he said: “We really oppose American aid that goes outside the government.”

Yusuf added that the best way to hunt members of Al Qaeda in Somalia was to strengthen the country’s government rather than to illegally support militias.

A Harare-based analyst, Fortune Zishiri concurred with the Somali Prime Minister’s assessment, saying: “The US has its interest in the Horn of Africa in trying to subdue people with terrorist links, and I think this is fair and fine. Where the problem arises is when the US carries out covert operations in violation of international law and procedure that add to the troubles in the region.”

He added that the US seemed to be increasingly losing its focus in its ‘war on terror’ by placing a premium on its effort to capture or kill a small number of high-level suspects.

Other observers have added their voices to the global condemnation of the operations pointing out that the CIA operation was a contributory factor in the resurgence of violence in the country as the militias have started hitting back, and on Monday claimed control of large swaths of the capital.

The argument is that support for secular warlords, who are united under the banner of the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism, may have helped to unnerve the Islamic militias and prompted them to launch pre-emptive strikes.

In Washington, senior Foreign Service officers have slammed the CIA operation as “short-sighted”.

Since the 1998 bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the US has been trying to track down Al Qaeda-linked fighters in East Africa with little real success to date.

June 2006
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