Comment: Daring US Raid in Somalia is Risky Policy
September 17, 2009 2 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The political aftereffect of a recent raid by US Special Forces in southern Somalia may be more significant than its outcome. The operation, which took place in the early hours of Monday, killed a number of al-Qaeda-linked militants and captured at least two, according to local witnesses. Unnamed US officials said that among the dead is Saleh Ali Nabhan, a 30-year-old Kenyan al-Qaeda operative who is said to have participated in the 2002 attack on an Israeli-owned resort in his homeland, among other acts.
Judged by its operational mission, the Special Forces operation appears to have been successful. It was carried out with the help of several helicopters launched from an unnamed US naval vessel stationed in the Indian Ocean off the Somali coast. What is more, the operation was described by US Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, as signifying an aggressive shift in US strategy in the so-called “war on terrorism”. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Blair said the US is “as aggressive in the intelligence world as [...] before, and, in fact, in the particular area of working against groups of violent extremists [...] we can be more aggressive because we are gaining more and more knowledge”.
What is not known at this point is whether the US Special Forces operation planners secured the consent of the Somali government of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. President Ahmed is a former leader of the Islamic Courts Union, whose view of US involvement in the Horn of Africa is extremely unenthusiastic. In the absence of a strong explicit consent by the Somali government, the US action risks alienating the few Somali governing officials who are skeptical of the rise of Islamist extremism in their country. Furthermore, it risks turning the Somali population against increasing US involvement in the area, similarly perhaps to the effects of the unmanned drone raids by the CIA in Pakistan.
US military commanders should read the reports from east Africa of Paul Salopek, who appears to be just about the only mainstream American reporter paying attention to Washington’s secret war in Africa, and specifically in Somalia. In what is in fact America’s most recent war, the US approved and assisted an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, in late 2006. Since then, increasingly aggressive US anti-terrorist operations in Somalia, which have included extrajudicial assassinations, kidnappings and renditioning of suspects, has resulted in what Salopek calls “political blowback”, that is, popular reaction to the US involvement in Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and even Kenya. Salopek argues the blowback may have been responsible for the bloody 2007 election crisis in Kenya, which killed 1,300 people and destabilized the country’s political structures. This is because, as “Muslim human-rights groups and political analysts in Kenya say, the renditions helped incite the nation’s Muslims to vote en bloc against a pro-American president and set the stage for [the] explosive, razor-close election” that led to the clashes, says Salopek.
Salopek’s warnings point to the fact that extra-judicial assassinations may offer short-term operational benefits, but tend to subvert long-term strategic goals, which, in the case of the US-led “war on terrorism”, is to win the hearts and minds of people and communities susceptible to militant ideologies. More importantly, covert operations of the extrajudicial variety run the risk of politically destabilizing whole regions, as is becoming increasingly evident today in Pakistan, and may be happening in east Africa as we speak. The broader US effort thus runs the risk of destabilizing several volatile fronts in this ever-widening war, which will be the most explicit indicator of a tragic American defeat.