Kenya-Somalia border conflict at Mandera

[Update 3/5: “Kenya and Somalia form teams to ease tensions” Daily Nation]

[Update 3/4: Democracy Assistance news– Longtime International Republican Institute board member, former Rep. Jim Kolbe, quietly leaves Republican Party, registers as Independent.]

Temperatures have risen between the Federal Government of Somalia and Kenya as they have risen with Somaliland:

Kenya accuses Somalia of ‘unwarranted’ attack on border town–Tensions between Nairobi and Mogadishu soar as they accuse each other of encroaching on border territory.Al Jazeera, March 3:

Temperatures rose further after heavy fighting erupted on Monday in the Somali border town of Bulohawo between Somali government troops and forces from the semi-autonomous region of Jubaland.

Legislators from the nearby Kenyan town of Mandera said the fighting was so intense it caused residents there to flee and take shelter.

A Kenyan government statement condemning “violations of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” appeared to indicate that Somali forces had crossed into Mandera during the battle.

“Foreign soldiers – in flagrant breach and total disregard of international laws and conventions – engaged in aggressive and belligerent activities by harassing and destroying properties of Kenyan citizens living in the border town of Mandera,” it said. 

. . . .

The fighting in Somalia is the latest instance of tensions between Mogadishu and its regional governments.

Jubaland authorities in August accused Mogadishu of interfering in its election and seeking to remove President Ahmed Madobe and get a loyalist in power to increase its control.

Madobe is a key ally of Kenya, which sees Jubaland as a buffer against al-Shabab fighters who have staged several bloody attacks across the border.

Kenya has been further drawn in, as it is accused of harbouring a fugitive Jubaland minister who was arrested by Mogadishu for “serious crimes” but fled from prison in January.

Tensions between the neighbouring countries are also high because of a spat over maritime borders, with possibly lucrative Indian Ocean oil and gas reserves at stake.

. . . .

Kenya urged Somalia’s federal and regional governments to focus on defeating the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab.

Observers say the myriad feuds between the fragile government in Mogadishu and its federal states is a major obstacle to fighting the armed group.

On Somaliland and Somalia tensions, I will quote the conclusion of an editorial from Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute titled “Farmajo fights separatism the wrong way” from back in January:

Somalia’s dream of unity is understandable and it can be compelling, just as those supporting Somaliland separatism can find their case persuasive. But, what Farmajo forgets or does not understand is that if Somalia is going to reunite with Somaliland, it must perform better than Somaliland. It must be more stable, more secure, more democratic, and less corrupt. It must have a better economy that will be a regional envy. Somalia cannot force Somaliland into its fold militarily; it is not strong enough and occupying Somaliland will never bring peace. Militaristic rhetoric from Farmajo will only exacerbate mistrust born from his relative Siad Barre’s rule and the human rights abuses he perpetrated in Somaliland. What neither Farmajo nor Yamamoto understand is that economic strangulation also will not compel Somaliland to rejoin Somalia. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Hargeisa under Mogadishu’s control when even Mogadishu is not under Mogadishu’s control.

Somali nationalists can cast aspersions toward Somaliland nationalists, and they can troll on social media. Farmajo’s advisors and his press spokesmen can insult from an official podium before they retreat into armored cars and locked-down compounds, or take official planes to Doha and Istanbul. But none of their tactics will achieve their goals; indeed, they only make them harder to attain. If Somali nationalists want to restore Somali greatness, there is no substitute for reform. Simply put, for there to be unity, Somalia must be better than Somaliland rather than try to suffocate Somaliland.

East Africa roundup for February: Rwanda, South Sudan, Kenya and Burundi

A roundup of East Africa democracy news and opinion:

Julian Hattem in World Politics Review explains that “Rwanda’s Opposition is Disappearing Along With Kagame’s Credibility“, keyed off the death of popular gospel singer Kizito Mihigo in custody.

This is a good article and I recommend it (while I have to note my pet peeve that it indulges as so many accounts do in the Kagame mythology that the RPF “marched in from Uganda to end the genocide” rather than noting that they came across the border and began fighting years earlier than their march into Kigale in 1994.)

Is there a day coming where Americans notice the problem even of repression of religious freedom in Rwanda in spite of the lionization of Kagame and his willingness to transact with foreigners on terms not available internally?

In South Sudan, a formal unity government was announced to meet the extended February 22 deadline. Most important details are either unresolved, or to be executed from a dead start, but this was a necessary step for hope for deeper progress, especially for one day when the people are free of their current warlord leaders. Riek Machar upon being re-instated as First Vice President was accordingly released from IGAD “house arrest”.

Update–Here is a report from the International Crisis Group: “A Major Step Toward Ending South Sudan’s Civil War

Kudos are in order for the diplomatic efforts to step up pressure on both sides, and in particular on Salva Kiir who had the most power and leverage through defacto control of the government. It seems that the State Department under Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy in particular engaged and showed leadership. The US has a unique diplomatic responsibility and opportunity in South Sudan so it is encouraging to see us step up to the plate.

Not sure what to make of this article in which Kalonzo Musyoka and the reporter posit a leading role for himself as Kenya’s envoy: “Kalonzo: How we brokered Kiir Machar peace pact“:

Former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka returned to the country on Sunday from Juba after accomplishing a delicate peace deal that saw South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar form a unity government.

The negotiators of the peace agreement heavily relied on Mr Musyoka to achieve the long-delayed process towards ending a six-year civil war that has led to loss of thousands of lives.

It is very much true that (1) Kalonzo was a Kenyan insider under Moi and then Kibaki’s Foreign Minister on though the negotiation of the CPA in 2005; (2) Kenya is inevitably of importance in South Sudanese power struggles because of the role of Nairobi as at least the “back office” and “capitol of capital” for South Sudanese kingpins; (3) Gideon Moi (as reported by The Sentry) and certainly other leading Kenyan figures are major players in financial dealings at issue in South Sudan; (4) the U.S. as the leading international power involved in the nascent building of a South Sudanese nation is closest to Kenya and to Uhuru Kenyatta in particular among the IGAD members and leaders, so Kalonzo in representing Kenya and Uhuru presumably has standing with the US in addition to his own background with the negotiations.

Remember that after his deal with Mwai Kibaki during the 2007 presidential campaign to stay in the race and be appointed Vice President, Kalonzo was trusted enough by Kibaki and his men to represent them in Washington during the Post Election Violence in lobbying against a “unity government” with Raila. At that time in early 2008 Uhuru was also in Kibaki’s initial cabinet Minister of Local Government, as he had been under Moi in 2000-2002, administering Nairobi issues in those pre-devolution days.

Speaking of Nairobi, Uhuru and devolution, the purported “sign over” of governmental powers from Nairobi Governor Sonko, to the Kenyatta Administration, while seemingly suspended from official action by court order and facing impeachment and criminal charges, is the big new story.

According to The Standard, “Human Rights Activist Okiya Omtatah and Lawyer Robbin Murimi filed separate applications at the High Court Nairobi challenging the move.”

Uhuru Park

Close behind is the damning latest round of leaks of secret details of corruption and dereliction in the Kenya Railways/Standard Gauge Railroad saga.

Otherwise, as it has become more clear that the BBI is generating inevitable controversy, Ambassador McCarter has tempered his language of American support to emphasize a robust debate with wananchi involvement on “which provisions to enact”. At the same time, three months now since the release of the original BBI Report and almost two years after the Handshake, it remains unclear (or undisclosed) exactly what the “deal” is.

Meanwhile, elections are coming up fast in Burundi on May 20. For the latest on the ongoing pre-election violence, see The New Humanitarian: “Killings, arrests as elections draw near in Burundi.

The EAC will send Observers since Burundi is a member:

EAC Secretary General Ambassador Liberat Mfumukeko informed the UN delegation that the EAC observes elections within the context of the National Constitutions of the Partner States.

He assured the delegation that preparations were underway for the launch of a longterm EAC Observer Mission that will monitor the Burundi electoral process in its entirety, as well as a short-term EAC Observer Mission that will monitor the polling only.

“I am confident that the peaceful spirit we have experienced during the party nominations will continue during and after elections,” said the secretary general.

“The EAC is calling on all the people of Burundi to sidestep violence, regardless of the situation,” he added. In 2018, Burundi promulgated a new Constitution.

Al-Shabaab Manda Bay attack investigation update from AFRICOM

AFRICOM public affairs has released today an update on the investigation of the January 5 al-Shabaab attack at Kenya’s Manda Bay and US air operations:

U.S. Africa Command continues to investigate the Jan. 5 attack on the Kenyan Defense Force Military Base in Manda Bay, Kenya, that killed U.S. Army Spc. Henry J. Mayfield, Jr., and two U.S. contractors, Mr. Bruce Triplett and Mr. Dustin Harrison.

The tragic loss of these brave Americans and the damage and destruction to aircraft demonstrates the enemy achieved a degree of success in its attack. However, despite public reports, an initial assessment indicates that a timely and effective response to the attack reduced the number of casualties and eliminated the potential for further damage.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 5, al-Shabaab initiated mortar fire on the Kenyan Defense Force installation and Camp Simba, while simultaneously assaulting the airfield. U.S. forces are primarily located at Camp Simba, about one mile from the airfield. Shortly after the attack began, U.S. forces at Camp Simba quickly responded and actively counterattacked the enemy at the airfield.

U.S. forces and Kenyan Defense Forces repelled the attack, killing five al-Shabaab terrorists with no additional losses to U.S. or Kenyan personnel. While numbers are still being verified, it is estimated that several dozen al-Shabaab fighters were repelled. Because of the size of the Kenyan base, clearance and security operations continued for several more hours to ensure the entire base was secure.

In Kenya, U.S. forces are primarily responsible for training Kenyan forces, sharing intelligence, and personnel recovery. There are fewer than 350 Department of Defense personnel in Kenya.

“The attack at Manda Bay demonstrates that al-Shabaab remains a dangerous and capable enemy,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, U.S. Africa Command commander. “They are a menace to the people of East Africa and U.S. national interests there and their sights are set on eventually attacking the U.S. homeland. It is important that we continue to pursue al-Shabaab and prevent their vision from becoming a reality.”

Since 2010, al-Shabaab has killed hundreds of innocent people outside the borders of Somalia.

Immediately following the Jan. 5 attack, U.S. Africa Command sent senior leaders to inspect the site and speak with on-scene leaders and troops to assess any immediate actions required. Simultaneously, the command launched a senior-leader-led Army 15-6 investigation. The investigation team is looking into the facts and circumstances surrounding the attack. The full findings of the investigation will be released following family and Department of Defense notification.

Increased force protection measures have been put into place and U.S. Africa Command will pursue the attackers until they are brought to justice.

###

This follows the New York Times report yesterday that got widespread attention and coverage in the Kenyan media: “Chaos as Militants Overran Kenyan Airfield, Killing Three Americans“.

The performance of the Kenyan security forces during and after the battle frustrated American officials. At one point, the Kenyans announced that they had captured six of the attackers, but they all turned out to be bystanders and were released.

There are about 200 American soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines, as well as about 100 Pentagon civilian employees and contractors, in Kenya helping train and assist local forces. A large majority of them work at Manda Bay, according to military officials. But there were not enough Americans to stand perimeter security on the airfield, one Defense Department official said.

American forces have used Manda Bay for years. Special Operations units — including Green Berets, Navy SEALs and, more recently, Marine Raiders — have helped train and advise Kenyan Rangers there.

See “101st Airborne deployed to Manda Bay after al-Shabab attack” today from Military Times.

Kenya’s Moi hired Paul Manfort and Roger Stone’s firm to lobby the National Democratic Institute and others ahead of 1992 election

Back in the 2008 presidential campaign between John McCain and Barack Obama, Senator McCain got some criticism for using Charlie Black, previously of the Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly firm as a campaign consultant in part because of the firm’s background in lobbying in Washington for various dictators like Moi and Mobutu of African nations and Marcos of the Philippines. More recently, the spotlight has shifted to Paul Manafort and Roger Stone from that storied firm who have been convicted recently of multiple felonies related to their service to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and in Manafort’s case also involving money laundering associated with more recent work for a Russian oligarch in Ukrainian politics.

Washington reporting that I saw during the 2008 campaign noting the Black, Manafort Stone & Kelly work for Moi had a significant oversight in accepting spin that the Moi relationship had concluded with the end of the Cold War and the beginning of active U.S. support for democratization in Africa, including the push on Moi to legalize non-KANU parties, which came to fruition in the December 1991 legalization of political opposition.

My guess is that reporters relied on an incomplete aggregator rather than going directly to the original Foreign Agent Registration Act filings (online at http://www.fara.gov). Regardless, the point is that Black, Manafort Stone & Kelly made a third filing for Kenya under Moi for March 1, 1992 to February 28, 1993 that covers Moi’s December 29, 1992 re-election. Along with the U.S. Executive and Legislative branches, Black Manafort Stone & Kelly were to lobby the IMF and World Bank and “public interest and activist groups such as the Black Caucus, Africa Watch, Environmentalists, National Democratic Institute, Civil Rights Lawyers, African-American Institute, Article 19 (journalists) and other activists and public interest groups.”

[Another discrepancy is that the summary list on the Justice Department website lists an incorrect name, a successor firm, for the Black, Manafort Stone & Kelly, Inc. filing for 1992-93.]

As I have written previously, see “My Joel Barkan Tribute“, US Ambassador Smith Hempstone, a George H.W. Bush political appointee, wrote in his memoir Rogue Ambassador that he had recommended to Moi that Kenya allow the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to observe that first post-independence multi-party election featuring FORD-Kenya (Jaramogi Oginga Odinga), Ford-Asili (Kenneth Matiba) and the Democratic Party (Mwai Kibaki) among others challenging Moi’s KANU. Moi vetoed NDI for the Election Observation Mission but went ahead to invite “sister organization” the International Republican Institute (IRI) for whom I served years later in 2007-08 as Resident Director for East Africa in Nairobi.

IRI and NDI are private District of Columbia not-for-profit corporations established originally at the Republican and Democratic National Committees, respectively. Along with two other special purpose democracy assistance not-for-profits associated with two other parents, the United States Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO (an affiation of labor unions), these four “core institutes” receive funding from the National Endowment for Democracy or NED, pursuant to 1983 legislation. NED receives direct funding from the United States Government and is also able to raise private donations, as are the four “core institutes”.

It never came to my attention one way or the other whether Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly consulted Moi on the decision to reject NDI in favor of IRI or what Moi’s considerations might have been in taking that position. Nor of the State Department, USAID and/or others in the US Government and in IRI in going along.

Moi was re-elected according to the Electoral Commission of Kenya with approximately 36% of the vote.

The election was seen as badly flawed but nonetheless representing “the will of the people”. Presumably that would mean a recognition that within a year of opposition being legalized and with State resources deployed on behalf of Moi, a good 2/3 of Kenyans wanted to replace him, but without a runoff or a pre-election “deal” among the fledgling opposition parties Moi would be able to keep power and claim to have switched from a single-party authoritarian system to a “democratic mandate” without giving up power or persuading a majority of Kenyans that he deserved it.

After Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot in the November 1992 elections, Bush launched Operation Restore Hope, landing Marines and Navy Special Forces on the beach in Somalia December 9 leading UNITAF, a new UN humanitarian mission to replace UNISOM I, the ultimate predecessor of the current AMISOM which began in 2007. See an early official postmortem on Operation Restore Hope from the United States Institute for Peace here.

In Kenya after 27 years the Moi family remains prominent in political and business matters in Kenya with the son of Moi’s original benefactor Jomo Kenyatta eventually succeeding Moi as president in 2013 after a 2003-2013 interregnum under Mwai Kibaki who was Moi’s Vice President for the first ten years of his presidency from 1978 to 1988.

A U.S. war with Iran would be a big set back for longterm American interests and values in Africa as well as elsewhere

1. The basic rationale would be a version of the thinking in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2001-03: sanctions do not work forever, we have been in a low grade conflict mode for years against an intransigent regime that is not going to change its mind about willingness to use terror, a desire to threaten regional interests and aspirations for extended regional influence and a refusal to loosen domestic repression to allow any opportunity for “organic normalization”. Ultimately proliferation happens and the regime will get nuclear weapons in addition to the other WMDs it has had/is developing. At the same time, the repression assures a domestic mass constituency for liberalization.

2. In my perch in the defense industry in 2003 (working on Navy shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast) I was unpersuaded personally that the Bush Administration had made its case for the Iraq invasion. It seemed to me that we did not know enough about the situation to know what would happen next after we invaded, especially in the context of the Sunni/Shiite and other divisions within the country. It seemed too risky, too much of a “Hail Mary” so to speak, given what was argued by the Administration’s public diplomacy such as the Colin Powell speech at the UN and domestic speeches in the US, Congressional debates and such about the alleged threat.

3. At that time I was a lifelong Republican, and was by reputation somewhat connected in the Party, although I was not active in partisan politics while I was a lawyer in the shipyard (starting in 2000) because it seemed unrealistic to participate as a citizen “free agent” while being a lawyer with the dominant local industry as opposed to my previous work as a student and lawyer in private practice. I had voted for George W. Bush as the Republican nominee in 2000 although he was not a top choice for the nomination because I thought he was thin on experience and got the top of the field through preemptive fundraising clout rather than comparative merit. Ironically I had been reassured about Bush’s limited experience by Cheney’s performance in the campaign, even though I was unenthused about having essentially an all-Dallas ticket and Cheney’s role in asserting himself as running mate. I did not have an understanding of how contradictory Cheney’s own views were from the messages Bush presented in the campaign. All this is to say that I was not going to automatically support a war because Bush was proposing it–the most salient reason in Washington–but I should have been highly susceptible to being persuaded and they did not succeed in persuading me.

4. I will also note that there were countervailing influences over a period of time. Several years before the start of Fox News I got married and became active again in church having drifted during school years and then we had our first child. Even during the Bill Clinton/Ken Starr years I probably spent more time in church than with cable television, a major fork in the road and ultimately countercultural. The al Qaeda USS Cole bombing hit shortly after I started in shipbuilding and the Cole was brought to our yard for the repair/reconstruction so I was very aware of al Qaeda before being in Washington on business on 9-11. Then I went home and carried on. Yes, things had “changed” but the basic issues, challenges and choices remained.

5. As an orthodox non-fundamentalist Protestant who was not a daily consumer of Fox News, I did not feel a call to cast aside my formative moral orientation of restraint for peace and embrace some new doctrine of “pre-emptive war”.

6. Nonetheless, in the run up to Iraq I continued to read and study and learn but did not actually do anything to act on my lack of persuasion that we should invade.

7. While I was not in a position of influence, ultimately I have concluded that we went to war because hundreds or thousands of people in or around Washington who did know or should have known better went along with it anyway. And in doing so we made collectively as a country a most consequential foreign policy mistake and a moral misjudgment.

8. So now today I want to warn that going to war with Iran as a preemptive policy choice rather than a bona fide necessity would gravely set back our recovery from the 2003 miscalculation in Iraq and jeopardize the hopes of Iraqis for a better future. It would potentially arrogate to ourselves a role and responsibility in Iran that we simply are not prepared for, morally or otherwise. It would potentially kill who knows how many people not given a choice in the matter. And it would sap hope of standing up to outside counter-democratic forces (Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Egypt, Russia and China) in the immediate Sudan crisis which presents an important positive longterm opportunity for us to be who we say we want to be. It would have related impact in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa and to an unpredictable extent well beyond on the Continent. We already lack adequate diplomatic bandwidth to do as much as what we could with our “Prosper Africa” policy and are notionally planning military drawdowns even though AFRICOM has seen substantial degradation in overall security versus Islamist terrorist groups during its ten year existence. AFRICOM has yet to become the “different type of combatant command” that it was planned to be in substantial part because of the inevitable institutional inertia associated with a “permanent war” footing in the Middle East and South Asia. Likewise war with Iran could increase Iranian-supported terrorist activity in East and West Africa. And we all know that Donald Trump does not have the experience or moral gravitas to take these decisions.

Ten years into the major multinational counter piracy missions off the Horn of Africa, are China and India paying their fair share?

Operation Atalanta of the European Union (EUNAVFOR) commenced in December 2008 and was joined by the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) Combined Task Force for counter piracy force (CTF-151) in 2009.

The Combined Maritime Forces are a multinational security venture based in Bahrain, with U.S. and U.K. top command.

  • 33 member nations: Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, The Netherlands,  New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, The Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, United Kingdom, United States and Yemen.

China and India do send ships independently to cooperate in the CTF-151 mission. But given the volume of Chinese and Indian trade and shipping at this point, are they bearing their fair share of the cost?

Piracy has been radically reduced in recent years off Somalia and in the bab-el-Mandeb, Gulf of Aden region patrolled by CTF-151.

For the United States to solve the “free rider” problem for trade competitors, especially the PRC, the best approach it seems to me is to increase our own trade and investment in East Africa, as well as globally where we have facilitated the rise of the PRC as a trading power through free global maritime security, direct and indirect foreign investment, lax cybersecurity and intellectual property protections, etc.

While it has been our policy since my childhood to facilitate the rise of China, although under slightly varying rationales at different times over the years, President Trump has sometimes, along with a few of his advisors, expressed a desire to change this policy and our formal National Security Policy calls for recognition of “great power competition” as the superseding longterm priority to the ongoing war with al-Queda and progeny or similar groups.

National Security Advisor Bolton announced a “New Africa Policy” suggesting some rethinking back in December, but it seems to have been largely overcome by events since then. Bolton’s “back to the 80’s” focus on Cuba and Nicaragua to add to the standoff involving Venezuela, along with primary redirection of focus to the permanent “shadow war” with Iran, takes bandwidth, already constrained, away from African issues. Meanwhile rapidly unfolding events in Sudan, Algeria, Libya and Egypt at a time of increased uncertainty in much of Central Africa with limited clear U.S. engagement suggest that we are very much in flux about whether we are serious about recalibrating our overall reticence to compete in Africa.

Powerful forces of bureaucratic inertia and domestic American politics suggest that we are likely to continue deficit spending to help secure Chinese trade with Africa without get much further toward making it pay for itself at least through the 2020 election.

As of 2017, US exports to Sub-Saharan Africa were $ 11.7B., or somewhat less than the cost of an aircraft carrier or two amphibious assault carriers, with a trade deficit of $3B. Chinese exports were $37.4B with imports of $18.5B. (India had exports of $13.1B and imports of $19.7B.) The Chinese trade surplus with Sub-Saharan Africa approximately equals the annual U.S. Navy Shipbuilding and Conversion budget.

Helpful reading on why al-Shabaab has gained support in Kenya – and remembering Garissa University attack (updated)

UPDATE April 4: A timely new report came out today on this topic from the International Crisis Group, “The Hidden Cost of al-Shabaab’s Campaign in North-eastern Kenya.”

To follow up on my last post addressing U.S. strategy in the war with al-Shabaab in Somalia, here is a helpful March article from TRT World magazine on “Why is al-Shabaab making inroads in Kenya?

Also recommended is a January report to the UK Parliament “The Threat of al-Shabaab in Kenya: the Kenyan Government’s Counterterrorism Approach“.

And a January overview from Ilya Gridneff in World Politics Review, Despite Reforms Across the Horn of Africa, al-Shabab Continues a Deadly Campaign“.

And relatedly, today Nairobi’s Star features a Central Bank of Kenya report that “51% of Kenyans Live Hand-to-Mouth” (up from 34.3% in 2016).

The attack on Garissa University killing 147 Kenyans, primarily Christian students, was four years ago this week. It is sad to recognize the degree to which this type of threat may have grown in some important respects rather than reduced since that time.

Ramping up air strikes after 12 years, does the Trump Administration have a new strategy for the war in Somalia or is this escalation “mission creep”?

Kenyans going for water in Eastern Province with jerry cans on red dirt

The Trump Administration’s escalation of the air power part of the war in Somalia in recent months has caught the attention of American journalists. See recent reporting in The New York Times and Amanda Sperber’s investigative reporting in The Nation. A recent Amnesty International report that U.S. air strikes have caused 14 civilian casualties since 2017 had enough salience now to draw a formal AFRICOM denial in response. Al-Shabaab has maintained a recent high rate of suicide bombings causing mass civilian casualties as well as targeting government officials.

[Update 2: On April 5, AFRICOM released this statement regarding civilian air strike casualties, indicating that records had been discovered showing two civilians killed in April 2018 with further review to be conducted.]

[Update: See April 3 from the Council on Foreign Relations, “Controversy over U.S. Strikes in Somalia“,]

Meanwhile, Kenyan forces under AMISOM are reportedly continuing to pull back into more defensive position and thus leaving previously secured villages.

In a nutshell, the current chapter of war in Somalia has been underway since December 2006 with the Ethiopian invasion to restore the Transitional Federal Government which had been forced out of Mogadishu and was under threat of complete collapse in the face of fighters supporting the Islamic Courts Unions. There is a fair bit of fog on the details of the U.S. role. Secretary Condoleezza Rice wrote in one of her memoirs, No Higher Honor, that Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, already having expressed concern about spillover effects in Ethiopia from an extremist takeover in Somalia, called her on December 29 to let her know that his military was going in and, “Frankly, I did not try to dissuade him”. While there seems to be no surfaced evidence that we initiated the idea and some Americans involved in dealing with the Ethiopians could have been more discouraging at some prior point–clarity will await the historians–we nonetheless got directly involved without any public debate or disclosure to the American public. By the “go date” –just prior to December 29–we ended up providing air support and special forces hunting terrorists, at least, as well as coordinating with Kenya in the south as reported.

See “David Axe on ‘America’s Somalia Experiment’ provides a timely reminder of policy in the Horn of Africa in 2007-08“.

Rice’s memoir indicates she had no high regard or expectation regarding the TFG. She also writes that the Ethiopians were supposedly intending to be quickly in and out. Given these two factors, it is hard to understand exactly what was hoped for or expected (one has to be at least reminded of Libya or Afghanistan or Iraq where we were supposedly intervening militarily to prevent bad behavior without having a clear plan for the aftermath).

There has been some argument from commentators that we opposed the Islamic Courts Union because it was “Islamist”. The United States has close and supportive relations with a variety of Islamist governments, most conspicuously of course the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself which has had such a big ideological footprint in re-shaping education and worship among Muslims in Kenya, Somalia and throughout East Africa (and globally) so it does not make any sense to think that the U.S. supported a military ouster of the ICU just because they were Islamist rather than either tolerant or secular.

Nonetheless, Ethiopia had become a military ally of perceived importance and the invasion made sense for Meles Zenawi as head of a EPRDF regime that had its own reasons be concerned about a consolidating Islamist government regime next door, in an environment in which it had cracked down on political expression following a strong opposition showing and protests from the May 2005 election. For the U.S. I suspect that the motivator, in addition to supporting Meles, was the notion of the ICU as providing a “safe haven” for al Qaeda figures, including especially suspects in the Kenya and Tanzanian Embassy bombings, rather than issues more specific to the civil war or otherwise of internal governance. Al-Shabab has a long history with al Qaeda connected foreign fighters in leadership, and al Qaeda’s involvement in Somalia predated the ICUs by many years, although al-Shabaab it did not publicly and formally declare allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and become an open affiliate until 2012.

In 2002 the United States Central Command had established its base in Djibouti for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.  In December 2006 the new “Africa Command”–AFRICOM–had been announced but did not become operational and take over the Somalia war in its Area of Responsibility until late 2008, or almost two years into the war. AFRICOM has continued to be headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany for ten years now and relies on the CJTF-HOA as its only formal “base” on the continent, although in layman’s terms it has many small “base-like facilities” with various “MILSPEAK” labels across the north and central parts of the continent. Journalist Nick Turse in particular has identified facilities for American readers who do not have the opportunity to see these locations for themselves by seeking records and public sources, while sparring with the AFRICOM public affairs function who seem to have orders to make sure only skeptics will report most of what AFRICOM does. Several of these facilities, such as Camp Simba at Manda Bay near the Somali border in Kenya, are particularly relevant to the warfighting in Somalia. See “Africa is a Command: from Bush to Obama to Trump“.

Following the Ethiopian action, in early 2007 the African Union AMISOM “peacekeeping” force was established to continue to defend the restored TFG and it’s internationally sponsored “transition”, with the EU funding the AU to pay for troops from Burundi, Uganda and other providers.  In October 2011 Kenya entered the war with a land invasion from the south and roughly nine months later in June 2012 formally enrolled their Kenya Defense Forces fighters in the AMISOM mission for reimbursement. In September of 2012 Kenya AMISIM conducted a successful amphibious landing and joint attack with the Somali National Army and local militia, taking over the lucrative port at Kismayo, a regional charcoal and sugar smuggling venue that was controlled by al Shabaab and had been their key urban center since they were replaced from Mogadishu in 2011. Kismayo is capital of the Jubaland region that Kenya has long seen as a potential buffer beyond its own underdeveloped and ethnic Somali frontier. At present, Jubaland’s nascent regional government, led by former local warlord, is negotiating the possibility of resuming cooperation with the nascent Somali Federal Government, successor to the TFG, and is to hold a presidential election in August. Kenyan forces over the years have suffered significant, but officially obscured, losses in major attacks on two of their positions, but have generally avoided any sustained pace of conflict in supporting the regional Jubaland administration. Smuggling reportedly continues to be lucrative and shared by the KDF with al-Shabaab and non-al-Shabaab Jubaland Somalis. Kenyans at home have suffered high profile terrorist attacks from al-Shabaab and its supporters from both countries and the Kenyan “frontier region” seems to be more contested than at any time in the last 40 years, although political devolution seems to provide some examples of integration-supportive development progress. See “Now to that next step: evaluating the Kenya Defense Forces role in Somalia and Kenya’s security needs“.

Over the years since 2007 the war has ebbed and flowed on a seemingly sustainable, semi-permanent footing.  Both the recognized government and al-Shabaab have territory and funding and some resilient will even if leadership seem frequently fluid. AMISOM expert and George Washington University Professor Paul Williams has suggested that AMISOM could reasonably hope to pass off to a Somali defense in as little as ten more years, which would mean we are slightly more than half-way through a 22-year mission.

For some reason, there seem to be disruptive elements in recent months aside from the continued high number of suicide bombings and the major January terror attack in Nairobi’s Westlands. First, there seems to be the strange notion that AMISOM should draw down troop numbers now because someone years ago guessed that something more like ten years rather than twenty would be adequate.  This strikes me as quite irresponsible.  Inertia is not a substitute for a strategy and tactics that adjust to interim successes and failures.

Second, the big increase in air strikes. The strikes are not explained other than announcements after each in which al-Shabaab fighters are said to have been killed and that the strikes were in support of operations of the Somali National Army and/or AMISOM or protecting our troops supporting same.  Reportedly we only have around 500 “warfighters” of our own deployed so it is the volume of air strikes rather than personnel that represent a significant change and raise the question why?

Sometimes, the question of the deployment of 500 American warfighters can achieve major political resonance with the United States–such as the recent back and forth within the Administrations about residual deployment numbers for eastern Syria.  Others, as in the case of Somalia seem nearly invisible.

Reading through the AFRICOM public communications, one gets the impression that the Command has a concern to re-assure our African “partners” (“partner” in this context means any government in the Area of Responsibility that is not off limits for reason of some egregious human rights situation or other policy matter that will agree to let us help them with training and capacity building in return for access and cooperation) that we are not going to abandon them to their “violent extremists” as we are calling the various Islamist guerrilla forces that use terrorism among their insurgency toolkits. 

The Trump Administration has announced that it is re-orienting American National Defense Strategy toward defending against major power competitors (i.e. Russia and China) rather than the “violent extremists”.  The timing may seem worrying to African defense leaders since the “violent extremist” problem is significantly worse in many areas now than when AFRICOM started in 2008, just as a recent CSIS report has documented what we all know casually: the situation has worsened globally (“Despite nearly two decades of U.S.-led counterterrorism operations, there are nearly four times as many Sunni Islamic militants today as there were on September 11, 2001.“)

In the case of AFRICOM, the official “MILSPEAK” term for a ten percent drawdown in American forces in Africa associated with the new National Defense Strategy is “Optimization”.  (One could suggest that this is the defense assistance analog to USAID’s “Self Reliance” focus coinciding with the Trump Administrations budget proposals to dramatically cut assistance budgets while increasing overall defense spending.)  Of course we are all in favor of being optimal, and self-reliant, just like we all want to be best, but these kind of words mean different things to different people, especially when used as public diplomacy labels to win support for changes in policy.

Could increasing air strikes seem to someone in the process in Washington a way to “show commitment” to fighting al-Shabaab even as our global posture shifts?  Could they indicate concerns of more al-Queda related transnational terrorists coming in with the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria or otherwise?  Or if AMISOM is going to be allowed to draw down is there a desire to substitute air strikes or expedite the pace of fighting to keep al-Shabaab from waiting out AMISOM before the Somalia National Army is capable?  These are all just hypotheticals for me as an American not employed or contracted by my government to be personally involved beyond paying the taxes and preparing my children for the debt load.

Part of the challenge with Somalia is that we are not ready, at least yet, to acknowledge being “at war” even though there is not any serious factual debate about the fact that we are and have been.  The fact that we are fighting is not officially secret, but neither are we open about it.  We are not seeking public support in either the United States or in East Africa for what we are doing since we are willing to talk about it only in a way that is patently condescending rather than inviting engagement.

I have always wondered to what extent the war effort on Somalia, and the decision not to talk about it, hamstrung Ambassador Ranneberger and others who were supervising our democracy assistance and election preparation in Kenya. And once I eventually saw recently through FOIA that by April 2017 the Ambassador was describing a new approach of “building capital” with Kibaki rather than pushing reforms as per the older USAID program I would inherit within a few weeks, I am left with the heightened collaboration with Kenya during those initial months after the Ethiopian invasion as the most obvious change in facts that could explain the Kenya policy change. Was our failure in election assistance in Kenya with its devastating consequences facilitated by an unwillingness to discuss and account for Ethiopia and Somalia policy overlaps? If so, are we facing this kind of risk again as we escalate an air campaign without discussing why?

I am hoping that somewhere in my Government someone has come up with a new strategy for this war and that it went up the military and ultimately civilian chain-of-command before we started this escalated air campaign. The other possibility is pure self-perpetuating institutional “mission creep” which would be disturbing and irresponsible:

The escalation of airstrikes, as well as the introduction of manned gunships, has transformed the Defense Department’s Africa Command, based in Germany, into a war-fighting element akin to Central Command, which directs the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Africa Command, which was created only in 2007, has stressed that its role on the continent is to focus on training and equipping allied troops on the continent, but the rise in strikes points to a change in both posture and mission. Current and former American officials previously told The Times that there wasn’t one clear reason for the increase, but they noted that the drawdown of American military operations elsewhere in the world has given Africa Command more drones and gunships to use in Somalia. The loosening of regulations under the Trump administration on using force in the country has also contributed to the rise.

See “At War: This New Generation of Weapons Could Mean More Covert Airstikes Around the World”, March 27, 2017, NY Times Magazine.

 See “Somalia and the Limits of U.S. Bombing“, a prescient warning from Jon Temin, now of Freedom House, early in the Trump administration.

For the KDF role, see “Why an open-ended military campaign in Somalia may prove to be very expensive“, Andrew J. Franklin, Business Daily Africa, Dec. 7, 2011.

For background please start with Kenyan writer Rasna Warah’s “War Crimes: How Warlords, Politicians, Foreign Governments and Aid Agencies Conspired to Create a Failed State in Somalia” and the recent “Inside al-Shabaab; The Secret History of Al-Qaeda’s Most Powerful Ally” by Haron Maruf and Dan Joseph, reviewed here in Hiiran Online.

Podcast recommendation: over the past six months Travis Adkins’ “On Africa” from Washington has been a great resource

Djibouti IGAD Election Observation Mission press conference led by Kenya’s Issack Hassan of IEBC

There has been an explosion of great work in English relating to Africa in the podcast genre recently, and as an amateur I am way behind in sampling the free learning available just from time constraints. Today I want to flag the relatively new “On Africa” podcast hosted by Travis Adkins which has been a great teacher for me.

Start with Episode One, on October 4 of last year with Amb. Johnnie Carson, who has lived the history of the relationship between the U.S. and Zimbabwe, on “Zimbabwe after Mugabe.” November 6 on Cameroon as an “Electoral Dictatorship in Crisis” with Dr. Chris Fomunyoh of NDI was especially helpful for me since I focus on East Africa and do not have much background on the unique challenges there. Dr. Fomunyoh is a native of Anglophone Cameroon but attended university in Francophone Cameroon and has been a high level fixture for many years at NDI where he is Director for West and Central Africa.

Episodes of December 19, 26 and 31 on Sudan and South Sudan with Amb. Susan Page were especially good. Amb. Page has a personal background with the negotiations leading to the 2005 provisional government, served as NDI Regional Director and was appointed by President Obama as the first U.S. Ambassador following South Sudanese independence–so again, a sweep of recent history on into current events from an “insider” perspective.

Most recently for me, the February 13 episode with Zach Vertin, former diplomat now at the Brookings Institution Doha gives a 39 minute dive into the current “Red Sea Rivalries” shaking up international relations in the Horn of Africa region. Partin has a new book out on the birth of South Sudan which sounds fascinating and I have on my list.

Most of the best Africa podcasts I have been able to take time for in recent years have been more of an academic nature–what Adkins is doing at “On Africa” with accessible overviews of high level politics and diplomacy with people directly involved is a welcome addition for someone like me who wants to deepen and broaden their knowledge as an interested citizen with limited time due to other responsibilities.

MILSPEAK will never die; and a COMBATANT COMMAND may never be great at Public Diplomacy – AFRICOM and a “Failed Communication”

When General Thomas Waldhauser, the outgoing AFRICOM Commander, went before the Senate Armed Services Committee (“SASC”) for public testimony on the AFRICOM Annual Posture Statement relating to the legislative budget process–a performative function for the Senators and the Senate and the Military–someone seems to have failed to scrub the presentation with an appreciation for how it would look to use an “infographic” to publicly describe to the world–especially to interested citizens in the 53 “partner” states of the AFRICOM Area of Operations (“AOR”)–one of the “U.S. strategic interests in Africa” as to “decrease potential for Africa to become a failed continent”.

Some of us who are “olds” (surely this term is a bit insensitive 🧐) and have spent at least some of our formative years before the pervasiveness of global public communications seem to forget that we Americans live in a global fishbowl of our own making.

General Waldhauser will have spent his career with military electronic communications but will have climbed some ranks before civilian application reached the point that “public” in Washington was automatically realtime “public” nearly everywhere.

Security issues, especially terrorism and civil unrest, have cross-border components that may be magnified by the large number of independent countries in the geographic areas involved, but this sort of loose, broad brush talk that might be useful for selling a budget in a competitive bureaucratic marketplace is embarrassing and counterproductive from the standpoint of official communications and “public diplomacy” because it makes AFRICOM look out of touch and patronizing.

In this way, AFRICOM seems to have accidentally put itself at cross purposes in communications with what is supposed to be the “New Africa Strategy” as announced by the National Security Advisor that is intended to reflect a shift of emphasis to American trade and investment with and in African countries. Since the end of the Cold War we have focused on securing the global “lanes of trade”, especially the world’s only “blue water Navy”, facilitating trade between China as well as India, Japan, the EU and others and African countries, without much real policy focus on our own economic participation beyond aid and philanthropy.

Now that China is so much richer, seems to be re-doubling domestic repression and investing heavily in quickly building out both traditional and “new technology” military tools, while leaning on our longstanding allies in Southeast Asia and showing other geopolitical ambitions, we wish to increase our own economic participation in Africa’s growth for the kind of normal geopolitical reasons that we had de-emphasized in recent years.

In competing against the United States, as well as against Japan, Europe and the UK and other more developed democratic powers in Africa, the PRC naturally wants to sell the idea that the Chinese Communist Party offers some sort of South-South mutual respect to African borrowers and customers in spite of its huge actual size and command structure and the way it treats its own ethnic minorities. Whereas the United States Government has the task not only of assuring African markets of our respect and compatibility, but also of encouraging and persuading, rather than directing, U.S. domiciled companies and investors to go take on risk and invest in African countries.

So clumsy negative hyperbole is not the thing we are looking for here. I have a distaste for some of the slick overproduced happy talk “success stories” that get funded within the rubric of “development assistance” and we need straight honesty from our military leaders about the status of wars we are fighting, but we should avoid being carelessly negative when expressing our aspirations.

I do think on this one that the buck really ought to stop with General Waldhauser — he himself in his many-hatted role should have personally known better and not stepped in that hole. Much of the articulated reason to have AFRICOM–as opposed to not having AFRICOM–was that it was to be a “different type of Command” which integrated personnel from the State Department and USAID directly into its structure to be better at things like diplomacy than the Commands dating to the Cold War, presumably based on lessons learned.

UPDATE: Sept. 8

Investigative reporting from Amanda Sperber in The Nation : “Inside the secretive US air campaign in Somalia“.

From the Longwar Journal (Foundation for Defense of Democracies): “US military intensifies airstrikes against al Shabaab in Somalia“.