The Economist editorializes about the situation in Somalia and surprisingly implies an optimistic future.
Somalia may now have its best chance of peace and security since 1991. If the government can consolidate its hold on Mogadishu, it will be a big step forward. The capital’s port is busy, its markets bustling. More suicide-bombings and assassinations will occur; a respected local journalist was killed last month. But this year most residents will, with luck, seek to remake their livelihoods rather than worry about fending off jihad.
I think they may need to worry about fending off more than jihad. As the Economist piece itself points out, the United States is behind these military initiatives in Somalia, has “intelligence agents and special forces on the ground,” and “drones in the sky.” The U.S. is running CIA blacksites as prisons and supporting thuggish militias to fight al-Shabaab, all while conducting covert kill/capture raids with Joint Special Operations Command forces. The U.S.-supported regimes of Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and others are joining the fight against the Somali militants as Predator and Reaper drones unleash airstrikes launched from bases in Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Seychelles.
The new strategy in Africa indicates a shift into the shadows, for this is the war nobody knows about. It is characterized by military aid to and reliance on brutish, undemocratic regimes, proxy militias, and targeted special operations. All of this is done without the consent of Congress and for the most part in secret. This is not cause for optimism. Optimism for the strategy appears irreconcilable with recent history, given that the U.S.-sponsored invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia in 2006 helped give rise to the militant group al-Shabaab – now ironically justifying current interventions.
The Washington Post recently reported that the Obama administration has a “concern that a broader campaign could turn al-Shabab from a regional menace into an adversary determined to carry out attacks on U.S. soil.” If what we’re already seeing isn’t “a broader campaign,” I wouldn’t want to see what is. But the point here is that even the administration recognizes that al-Shabab is merely “a regional menace” that does not pose a direct threat to the United States. It is also explicitly acknowledged that unleashing a drone war against the group, or instigating a regional war from all sides on Somalia, is likely to promote them into an international terrorist group “determined to carry out attacks on U.S. soil.”
This parallels a Congressional report issued at the very beginning of December which said “Boko Haram has quickly evolved and poses an emerging threat to US interests and the U.S. homeland,” and justifies entrenching military and security interests with the Nigerian government. Patrick Meehan, the chairman of the U.S. Congressional committee that drew up the report, said “While I recognize there is little evidence at this moment to suggest Boko Haram is planning attacks against the [US] homeland, lack of evidence does not mean it cannot happen.” Genius. As best I can tell, Boko Haram wasn’t on the radar until Africa became Washington’s new pet project in the “war on terror.”
So, should we expect “peace and security” in Somalia and East Africa, as the Economist suggests? The U.S. is funding and arming African tyrannies in this (again, largely secret) fight, which doesn’t exactly evoke pictures of peace and security. Those tyrannies are engaged in a ground war, along with U.S. forces, in Somalia, contributing to the ongoing civilian strife in the country. The drone war, especially if it is expanded, is likely to kill civilians and to strengthen Shabab militants, according to American officials. Reports do talk about a weakened al Shabab as things stand, but all this doesn’t strike me as the proper ingredients for peace and security.