Veterans Day–America and Africa

Happy Veterans Day to my friends and readers in and around the Armed Services.

I always think on these occasions especially of my Uncle Gid and late Uncle Elvin who went off to fight in World War II as farm boys. And my grandfather’s older brothers who fought in Europe in World War I, through that eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, even though their father was a German immigrant (of more than 40 years in Kansas by then) who wondered whether his neighbors would let him continue to live in the area with the country at war.

At my AfriCommons Flickr account I have started a small gallery for photos of Kenyans serving in the U.S. military. The first image below is the only one that has a Creative Commons license for me to repost here. The second image is just for entertainment.

Cleaning Up for Veterans Day

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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (Nov. 13, 2011) Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Julius Okeyo, originally of Kenya, reaches for a small bit of debris during the community beach clean-up conducted by the crew of USS MILIUS (DDG 69). The Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided missile destroyer was invited to the coastal city to participate in a weekend filled with community events including marching in the Veteran’s Day Parade, a hospital visit and ship tours for the public. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kim McLendon)

“Marines Support Shared Accord in South Africa”

Marines support Shared Accord in South Africa

Basil Mills, a wildlife conservation expert, shows Marines from 4th Law Enforcement Battalion various reptiles and wild life they might encounter in the South African wildness, where they will stay for the length of Exercise Shared Accord 13. Marines from 4th Law Enforcement Battalion supported Exercise Shared Accord 13, a multilateral training engagement with more than 700 servicemembers from the U.S. Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force along with more than 3,000 South African National Defense Force counterparts in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, from July 24 – Aug. 7. (U.S. Army Africa photo)

Djibouti–what’s next in French Somaliland?

“Developing Djibouti: An American Imperative” by Saleem Ali of the University of Queensland at NationalGeographic.com:

A nominal democracy, the country has been relatively peaceful yet still desperately poor. I had an opportunity to visit Djibouti recently after a visit to Ethiopia for the United Nations African Development Forum. My curiosity to visit this country was sparked by an article I had read in The Washington Post regarding the expansion of US military presence in the region. Landing at Djibouti International airport, one is alarmed to find one side of the air strip almost completely populated by US Airforce presence. The country is also among the few places in the world where drone aircraft can be seen on a civilian air strip, often overwhelming civilian traffic. The presence of these prized new airforce stealth weapons in Djibouti comes from its proximity to the Arabian state of Yemen which has become an increasingly significant hotbed for Al-Qaeda.

Talking to locals, there was little resentment towards American presence but also not much to show for their positive impact on the country. Occasionally one would hear stories of US soldiers volunteering for community service or building some unusual desert residence for local villagers, but the overall development impact of US presence here of over 3000 personnel has been minimal. Unemployment is still over 40% and much of the money that comes in from foreign investment is funnelled back to the foreign-owned businesses in the city. The US government pays only $38 million per year to lease the airfield for the drone operations and the African command base here which is under further expansion.

The lack of US investment in Djibouti is a tremendous missed opportunity to develop a country which could be a low-hanging fruit for citizen diplomacy with the Muslim world. With only 900,000 people and a relatively small land-base and a highly urbanized population, developing Djibouti with aid investment would be very easy to do. . . .

While “easy” may be an exaggeration, I agree with Ali’s point that Djibouti is a place where the United States ought to be committed to “showing our stuff” in terms of development capability.  And of course, as I have written before, a key place where delivering on democracy assistance in advance of, rather than behind, a crisis, ought to be feasible.

h/t John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review

 

AFRICOM continued: “The Pivot to Africa” in Foreign Policy

 

An important new piece from Foreign Policy by Rosa Brooks, a former Obama Administration defense official.  She aggressively defends the concept of the military taking on the civil development and assistance roles as a practical approach to U.S. international security given domestic political constraints and the actual challenges faced.  Nonetheless, she concludes that AFRICOM to date is experiencing “the worst of both worlds”:

These problems are not unique to Africom. As other combatant commands have similarly expanded their activities into traditionally civilian domains, they have struggled with similar problems and criticism.

In a sense, we currently inhabit the worst of all possible worlds: The military is increasingly taking on traditionally civilian jobs but doing them clumsily and often halfheartedly, without investing fully in developing the skills necessary for success. Meanwhile, civilian agencies mostly just grumble from the sidelines, waiting for that happy day when Congress gets serious about rebuilding civilian capacity. (I think Samuel Beckett wrote a play about that.) And few people, inside or outside the Pentagon, are taking seriously the need to think in new ways about what “whole-of-government” or a holistic approach to security might truly mean.

The blurring of civilian and military roles is inevitable, but the failure to grapple effectively with this blurring of roles is not. To address threats (and seize opportunities) in this globalized, blurry, chaotic world, we will need to develop new competencies, flexible new structures, and creative new accountability mechanisms. Most critically, we’ll need to let go of our comfortable old assumptions about roles and missions.

Well worthwhile to read the whole piece.  I’ll have some comments in the near future.

Some important reading while watching AFRICOM evolve

QDDR–the second leg of a two-legged stool?

AGOA, AFRICOM and the “Three Ds”

AFRICOM and the “Whale of Government” Approach

Uganda, Iran and the Security-Democracy Trade Space?

Democracy and Competing Objectives: “We need you to back us up”

GAO report . . . highlights changes of effective coordination of civil affairs/development work

“Pack like it’s Arizona”

 

 

Some important reading while watching AFRICOM evolve

From the Small Wars Journal an article entitled “The Slow Motion Coup: Militarization and the Implications of Eisenhower’s Prescience”.  The author, William J. Olsen, is a professor at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, a counterpart to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies:

Or another simple question: Why do we have Combatant Commanders?  This is a model drawn from WWII, made formal and deeply rooted as the result of the Cold War.  Both are over.  Why does the establishment linger?  And if we are to have a pro-consul per region, why a military officer?  Why not a senior civilian with a military adviser?

In this context, something else I have long recommended reading for getting a “feel” for AFRICOM is Chapter Seven of Robert Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground.  The chapter is titled “CENTCOM, Horn of Africa, Winter 2004, with notes on East Africa”.  Although the period Kaplan covers is before the stand up of AFRICOM as a separate Combatant Command, he visits the Marines of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti and accompanies an Army Civil Affairs Team setting up in Lamu, Kenya:

     These teams had a twofold mission: make a sustained contribution to the island’s quality of life, so that the inhabitants would see a relationship with the U.S. as in their best interests; and more immediately, be the advance guard for U.S. Marines from the U.S.S. Germantown coming ashore to repair a school and conduct a MEDCAP.

Lamu was an example of the new paradigm for projecting American power: modernize host country bases for use as strategic outposts, maintain local relationships through humanitarian projects, then use such relationships to hunt down “bad guys.”  Whether it was upgrading a runway, digging a well, or whacking a terrorist, the emphasis was always on small teams.

More broadly:

    The new paradigm gave (Marine) Brig. Gen. Robeson a sort of power that no U.S. ambassador or assistant secretary of state quite had.  Not only wasn’t he burdened by the State Department’s antiquated bureaucratic divisions but his ability to deal with the regions’s leaders and strongmen may also have been helped by a cause-and-effect, working class mind, disciplined by the logic of Marine tactical operations manuals and the classical military education he had received at Fort Leavenworth.  Though democracy was gaining in the region, many of the elected leaders with whom Robeson had developed relationships were former guerrilla fighters and military men . . .

The fact that generals like Mastin Robeson were in the diplomatic forefront, somewhat at the expense of the State Department, troubled commentators who assumed the permanence of industrial-age categories of bureaucratic responsibility, categories helped into being by the nineteenth-century professionalization of European militaries, which consequently separated them from civilian command structures.  But the distinctions appeared to be weakening.

From a review at Foreign Affairs:

Kaplan’s book is wider ranging. His underlying thesis is that the places he visits represent the periphery of a new American empire, whose fate will be determined by how its foot soldiers — the grunts — engage with the local populations. The analogy is to the frontiersmen of the nineteenth century: everywhere he goes he is welcomed to “Injun Country.” It is probably best not to worry too much about the thesis, which is half-baked, and instead enjoy the insights and reportage from a master of this sort of extreme travel writing.

Here is the latest from AFRICOM following last week’s “new policy” on Africa

Aside

Here is the official word from the AFRICOM blog on the current annual joint African Endeavor exercise in West Africa, along with a good comment from David Aronson to the effect that these things make conceptual sense to build the security capacity of African states, but also raise concerns in terms of the potential for this capacity to benefit repressive regimes.

It seems that in the U.S. most people who pay attention to things are asking what then is new in the “New Policy” on Sub-Saharan Africa from the White House last week.  Rhetorically the prioritization on democracy has been there–the question is what concrete steps we are willing to take to do a better job in practice of balancing competing priorities.  The policy announcement speaks to the concerns raised in my last post, but in generalities.

Ultimately, democratic transition involves risk and uncertainty–something different than “security”.  Local perspective is necessary.  In Kenya, for instance, we have seen the al-Qaeda-related Embassy bombing and other acts of terrorism; nonetheless, Kenyans can only dream of the day when poor performance by their own government is not vastly more dangerous than the terrorists.  Even with the current war in Somalia the regular stream of explosions killing Kenyans week in and week out are road accidents.

AGOA, AFRICOM and the “Three Ds”

Just as the big annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Conference is kicking off in Washington, and USAIDs Frontiers in Development conference has ended, the Washington Post has run a large story, “U.S. expands secret intelligence in Africa” which will continue to draw attention, discussing military operations as opposed to anything involving the traditional intelligence agencies.

Briefly, my “macro” level observation is that this is an example of the choices confronting Americans in simply deciding who we want to be in Africa.

There is perhaps a certain irony that in 2012, all these years after the Cold War, the Chinese Communist Party government leads an expansive, rapidly growing commercial presence across Africa, while the U.S. does seem to be specializing more in the military/security area. “Comparative advantage”? Bureaucratic momentum and politics in Washington? Sound policy making reflecting that the U.S. sees itself as quite rich already and has a main priority of preventing future tragic “embassy bombings” and “9-11s”; whereas the Chinese government is relatively speaking “young and hungry”, and needs to build its economic power to hold power at home against any possible future “regime change” from democratization or other domestic pressures?

AFRICOM is an experiment of sorts and it is evolving. The Post story points out that AFRICOM is still doing “aid” projects–by which I assume they mean things like the traditional humanitarian and medical missions carried out by troops, and things like the fish farming program for the DRC military in Eastern Congo I noted some time back along with the military-focused democracy and governance and rule of law training, aside from the more usual military and security training assistance. At the same time, the budgetary pressure in Washington is hugely increased from anything that people would have had in mind back during the finance bubble when the decision to roll out AFRICOM as a “new kind” of combatant command was made. Spending on “development” and “diplomacy” are lowercase priorities when the budget axe swings, verses “the big D” on the traditional military side of a “three Ds” national security strategy.

On one hand, AFRICOM could provide a bureaucratic umbrella of sorts to help shelter some “development and diplomacy” efforts from the budget storm. On the other, it could suck up dollars to pay for programs that are neither efficient nor well coordinated, nor carried out by people who have development or diplomacy as their primary mission.   Regardless, I think it is fair and appropriate to say that at least some people on both the civilian and military side of the effort, who believe in the concept of a “new kind” of command, are concerned about the staying power of the model as conceived and approved against the bureaucratic pressure for military homogenization in the context of the global war on terrorism formerly known as “the Global War on Terrorism”.

Yesterday at the Frontiers in Development program Jim Kolbe, former Republican Congressman and longtime IRI board member, emphasized the importance of development for U.S. national security. I agree.  Having worked in the defense industry myself for 12.5 years, including the time of the USS Cole bombing (the ship was repaired at my workplace), 9-11 (I was in Washington), 7-7 (got the news of the London bombings as an election observer in Osh, Kyrgyzstan) I do not downplay terrorism or undervalue U.S. security–I just want very much for all of us as citizens to take responsibility for making good and deliberative decisions about our long term interests and ultimately the broader role we want to play in the world.

“LRA nutures the next generation of child soldiers”–IRIN story from the DRC

I thought I should note a very interesting story today from IRIN, the news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

FARADJE, 26 March 2012 (IRIN) – The dilemma for Atati Faustin, 13, from Faradje in Haut-Uélé District, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is that although he misses his younger brother – abducted into the ranks of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) two years ago – he is also afraid of being reunited with him.

“I want my brother back,” he told IRIN, “but if I see him I would run. I am scared of him. I feel like he has died.”

Displaced with about 1,300 people from the nearby village of Kimbinzi in 2008 following repeated LRA attacks, and relocated to Ngubu, a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the outskirts of Faradje, he has not yet encountered him, but others in the community have – dishevelled, with dreadlocks, and carrying an AK47 assault rifle and a panga.

Kimbinzi is about 7km from the camp and occasionally some villagers return under a military escort provided by Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) to till the fields, as crops planted on land provided for them close to the River Dungu are routinely destroyed by hippos. Only young men return (during daylight hours) to Kimbinzi in a phenomenon described by relief workers as “pendulum movement” – women and children stay in the relative safety of Ngubu. .  .  .
Ugandan aid worker George Omoma has tracked the carnage left in the LRA’s wake across three countries, where children are not so much collateral damage, as the focus of LRA activity.

“Kony tells his people that it is not you [adults] that will overthrow the [Ugandan] government, it is the children. He wants to create a new generation of the LRA,” Omoma told IRIN.

Omoma is in Dungu helping to establish a rehabilitation centre for child victims of the LRA by the Catholic Church and NGOs Sponsoring Children and the San- Diego-based Invisible Children. When operations start later this year, the facility will be able to provide accommodation, counselling, training and education to hundreds of former child soldiers and abductees. .  .  .  .

Breeding child soldiers

Dominic Ongwen has risen through the ranks to become the LRA’s most senior commander in the DRC and is the armed group’s most notorious example of a kidnapped boy forced into child soldiering and who is now wanted for crimes against humanity and war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Sam Otto Ladere has appeared on the radar with a similar personnel history to Ongwen. He commands a group of 17 fighters falling under the command of Vincent Okumu Binany in the DRC.

Matthew Brubacher, political affairs officer working with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC’s (MONUSCO’s) Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement (DDRRR) unit, and an LRA specialist based in the eastern DRC city of Goma, told IRIN Ladere was abducted at a young age from a village west of Gulu.

“Ladere is one of the up and coming commanders. He is very trusted. This was evidenced by his being placed as chief of intelligence after Maj-Gen Acellam Ceasar was suspended following the execution of Lt-Gen Vincent Otti on 2 October 2007, even though Ladere was only a captain,” he said. DDRRR is working on a radio message on their FM network to try and lure him out of the bush.

Omoma said former abductees and child soldiers had told him of Ladere’s brutality.

Kony has taken many wives. At the Juba peace talks in 2006 it was estimated he had about 80 wives and it is unknown how many children the rebel leader has fathered.

“I don’t know how many Kony kids are active in the LRA, probably quite a few. There are a few bush kids now that were born and bred in the LRA. They are pretty wild when they come out as they have never known civilization,” Brubacher said.

Certainly the idea that the LRA has been able to continue to fester and mutate and perhaps in part replicate should be given some consideration in evaluating what priority to place on military efforts against the relatively small number of active fighters that appear to remain at present.

What about democracy in Djibouti?

Just asking . . . in light of the “Egyptian Circus” noted in my last post.

Perhaps you will recall that in March of last year Djibouti ordered the U.S. funded election observation mission led by Democracy International out of the country and declared its activities illegal. The sort of conduct that we have seen for years from Egyptian autocratic leaders–although fortunately they stopped short of arresting assistance workers.

Is Djibouti an example of a place where other priorities override our priority for supporting democratic rights? See Democracy Digest: “Stark division” in Arab Spring underlies U.S. policy too”.

Here I noted the spotlight on Djibouti as host to a small but established AFRICOM forces contingent in the form of the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa, CJTFHOA, with the recent special forces hostage rescue. see “U.S. sees Djibouti base as ‘central’ to its plans” in this week’s East African for further discussion.

How is Djibouti doing on democratic rights now? Here is a new report from Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns radio journalist Farah Abadid Hildid’s abduction by the police yesterday and the threats and torture to which he was subjected during the 24 hours he was held. Hildid works for La Voix de Djibouti, a radio station that broadcasts on the shortwave from Europe and is now also available on the Internet.

He described his ordeal to Reporters Without Borders by telephone two hours after his release:

“I was in Djibouti City yesterday waiting for a meeting. It was 11:30 am. Two men in a car with tinted windows stopped next to me. It was a uniformed policeman and a man in plain clothes. They asked me to get in. I refused but they forced me into the car. They blindfolded me so that I did not know where they were taking me. I found myself in a cell. They removed my clothes and handcuffed me, and that is how I spent the night, sleeping on the floor.

“They beat my feet very violently with pieces of rubber. They also broke my glasses. ‘We’ve had enough of you,’ they said. ‘You must stop broadcasting information about us. You must stop bothering the police and the Department for Investigation and Documentation. It will be the worse for you if you continue.’ At midday today, they brought me my clothes and blindfolded me again. Then they drove me to a piece of waste ground in the Gabode 4 district and left me there.”

Reporters Without Borders has decided to refer this matter to the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and will remain in regular contact with Hildid in order to be kept informed of his security situation.

“The physical mistreatment and psychological torture inflicted on this journalist are a disgrace to Djibouti’s authorities,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We call on them to put an immediate end to this sort of intimidation. If anything happens to Hildid again, we will know who is responsible.”

Hildid was detained twice in 2011 and was tortured and mistreated both times. This was confirmed by medical examinations after both periods in detention. The first time he was arrested, in February 2011, he was held for more than four months in Gabode prison on a charge of “participating in an insurrectional movement.”

The second time he was arrested, on 21 November, he was charged with encouraging an illegal demonstration and insulting the president. He was released four days later after being placed under the supervision of an investigating judge attached to the supreme court.

As a result of these and other events, Djibouti fell 49 places in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and is now ranked 159th out of 179 countries.

Can we wait and take up the issue of democratic reforms later, sometime into the future? Take note of the “comment is free” op/ed in the Guardian from May 2009 about Obama being seen as continuing U.S. support for Mubarak:

Obama in Cairo is a blow to democracy; Obama’s decision to give a speech to the Muslim world from Cairo is an endorsement of Egypt’s brutal dictatorship

Wajahat Ali
guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 May 2009 15.30 EDT
Article history

By choosing Cairo, Egypt as the platform for his long awaited address to the global Muslim community, President Barack Obama predictably leans on a reliable dictatorship suffocating a country that is teetering toward religious and political irrelevance.

Indeed, modern Egypt resembles its ubiquitous tourist attraction, the Sphinx, the symbolic temple guardian adorned with a human head on a prostrate lion.

Similarly, the near-30-year, brutal autocracy of Hosni Mubarak weighs heavily on the immobilised body of an

Continue reading

Rescue of kidnapped aid workers in Somalia highlights Camp Lemonier, Djiboutti

“Djiboutti Outpost Behind Somalia Rescue is Part of New Defense Strategy”, Thom Shanker, New York Times:

. . . “Djibouti is the central location for continuing the effort against terrorism,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said during a visit to Camp Lemonier last month.

The trend in favor of a small American footprint overseas is expected to grow as Mr. Panetta must cut about $487 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade, even as he shifts more forces to Asia while not diminishing American deterrence and influence in the Middle East.

This military math may require the size of American forces to shrink in Europe and elsewhere — and bases like Camp Lemonier will be expected to manage the risk at a modest cost.

Jennifer G. Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy center here, said the mission of the military’s Africa Command originally was to upgrade the abilities of local security forces — “so the U.S. would not be drawn into conflicts or crises.”

“But the United States may not have the leeway of waiting to build up partner capacities to take on these kinds of challenges,” she said. “So, being nimble and flexible with a light footprint in a place like Djibouti, the U.S. military may be required to tackle these crises immediately as they arise.”

Another important military mission that deploys a small force on the huge African continent is in Uganda.

In October, President Obama ordered 100 Special Operations advisers to Uganda to help train regional forces combating the Lord’s Resistance Army, a notorious renegade group that has terrorized villagers in at least four countries with marauding bands that kill, rape, maim and kidnap with impunity.

When Mr. Panetta visited Camp Lemonier, there were about 3,500 American personnel assigned there, up from the several hundred Marines and members of Special Operations forces that landed in 2003 when the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa relocated. It had been based on a warship when the mission was conceived a year before, dedicated to hunting for remnants of Al Qaeda in the wake of the Taliban’s ouster from Afghanistan.

The units include a headquarters staff, civil affairs teams that include doctors and veterinarians, as well as engineers and military trainers. Mostly invisible to the local population, the task force has responsibility for a vast area of Africa that includes Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden — almost 70 percent the size of the continental United States.

“U.S. Swoops in and Frees Two in Somalia Raid”, Jeffrey Gettleman, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times:

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Around 2 a.m. Wednesday, elders in the Somali village of Galkayo said they began hearing an unusual sound: the whirl of helicopters.

It was the culmination of a daring and risky mission by about two dozen members of the Navy Seals to rescue two hostages — an American aid worker and her Danish colleague — held by Somali pirates since October. The commandos had dropped down in parachutes under a cloak of darkness while 8,000 miles away President Obama was preparing to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. The commandos hiked two miles from where they landed, grabbed the hostages and flew them to safety.

For the American military, the mission was characterized by the same ruthless efficiency — and possibly good luck — as the raid on Osama bin Laden in May, which was carried out by commandos from the same elite unit. Nine Somali gunmen were killed; not a single member of the Seals was hurt.

One pirate from the area who seemed to have especially detailed information about the Seal raid said it involved “an electrical net-trap, flattened into the land,” which presumably was the parachute. “Then they started launching missiles,” said the pirate, who spoke by telephone and asked not to be identified.

Pirates operate with total impunity in many parts of lawless Somalia, which has languished without a functioning government for more than 20 years. As naval efforts have intensified on the high seas, stymieing hijackings, Somali pirates seem to be increasingly snatching foreigners on land. Just last week, pirates grabbed another American hostage not far from where the Seal raid took place. Continue reading

David Axe on “America’s Somalia Experiment”–a timely reminder of policy in the Horn of Africa in 2007-08

David Axe on “America’s Somalia Experiment”  this week in The Diplomat:

The complex US-led intervention in Somalia, a decade in the making, represents offshore balancing at its most potent and urgent. The Libyan rebellion was outside the United States’ core interests. For Washington, intervening in Libya was optional. But Somalia, a failed state since 1991 and an al-Qaeda safe haven, represents a direct threat to the United States, and indeed has inspired the first American suicide bombers.

If offshore balancing, with its emphasis on air and sea power and proxy armies, is to define the US strategic approach to Asia and the Pacific, it first must succeed in Somalia.

For advocates of the strategy, there are reasons for hope. US offshore balancing in Somalia came together gradually, almost by accident, as separate interventions chased the converging problems of famine, terrorism and piracy. Today, this increasingly unified US effort seems to finally be bearing fruit, as American-supported foreign armies rapidly gain ground against al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist fighters.

However, sceptics too might find ammunition in the United States’ Somalia strategy. For while current US efforts in Somalia have managed to avoid a major ground-force deployment – and  indeed have been essentially bloodless for Washington – they have at the same time failed to bring a speedy end to the country’s crises. The recent territory gains are encouraging but hardly decisive – and certainly reversible.

.  .  .  .

The ICU didn’t explicitly advocate terrorism, and there were probably only a handful of al-Qaeda operatives hiding out in Somalia at the time. But that nuance was lost on the George W. Bush Administration. Washington pledged support for the Ethiopian attack, including ‘intelligence sharing, arms aid and training,’ according to USA Today.

With this backing, plus air cover provided by US AC-130 gunships and carrier-based fighters and assistance on the ground by US Special Forces, the Ethiopian army launched a Blitzkrieg-style assault on Somalia in December 2006.

Ethiopian tanks quickly routed the ICU’s lightly armed fighters. ‘The Somalia job was fantastic,’ Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan told then-US Central Commander boss Gen. John Abizaid in 2007.

The Bush Administration agreed with that assessment, at least initially. And the proxy approach to African security challenges quickly became central to Washington’s policy for the continent. In 2007, the Pentagon formed a new regional command called ‘Africa Command’ to oversee operations in most of Africa.

.  .  .  .

In Somalia, the Ethiopian invasion and subsequent two-year occupation only served to rally the country’s Islamic extremists. Al Shabab coalesced from the remains of the ICU’s armed wing and launched a bloody, and surprisingly popular, insurgency against the Ethiopians.

Also targeted: the UN- and US-sponsored Transition Federal Government, formed under the protection of the Ethiopians, plus the new African Union peacekeeping force composed mostly of Ugandan and Burundian troops and funded by the United Nations and Washington.

Al Shabab also strengthened ties with al-Qaeda, which had sent operatives to advise clan forces during the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu and, more than a decade later, still maintained a small presence in Somalia. The al-Qaeda-Al Shabab alliance helped Al Shabab pull off a twin suicide bombing in Kampala, Uganda, on July 11, 2010 that killed 74 people.

.  .  .  .

US support for the peacekeepers and the TFG represents the proxy portion of Washington’s offshore balancing in Somalia. Naval patrols, Special Forces raids and strikes by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles round out the strategy. At first, however, the main air and sea initiatives weren’t directly tied to the proxy fight on the ground.

In parallel with its support for Ethiopia’s attack on Somalia, the Pentagon in 2006 was in the process of standing up an East African counter-terrorism complex anchored by secret bases reportedly in Ethiopia and Kenya. From there, US Special Forces and armed drones struck at terrorist targets in Somalia, occasionally in cooperation with naval forces.

In 2007, Special Operations Command aircraft launched at least two helicopter raids on al-Qaeda and Al Shabab operatives in Somalia. On no fewer than three occasions in 2007 and 2008, commandos spotted targets for US warships firing Tomahawk cruise missiles at Somali targets. Some of the same warships help make up Combined Task Force 150, a US-led international naval force assigned to intercept arms shipments bound for Al Shabab and al-Qaeda in Somalia.