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.

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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.

Good news and bad news on the effectiveness of American “democracy assistance”: we spent most of the money where war precluded meaningful opportunity

The conjunction of war and democracy assistance has been brought back to the fore for me the publication by The Washington Post of its “Afghanistan Papers” series.

The bottom line on the Afghanistan war for me is that those who warned that we were risking losing Afghanistan to invade Iraq (who seemed persuasive to me at the time) turned out to be right:

Drawing partly on the interviews but largely on other government documents, SIGAR [the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction] published two Lessons Learned reports in 2017 and 2019 that highlighted an array of problems with the Afghan security forces. The reports followed several SIGAR audits and investigations that had pinpointed similar troubles with the Afghan army and police. 

But the Lessons Learned reports omitted the names of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project, as well as their most biting critiques. The Post obtained notes and transcripts of the interviews under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) after a three-year legal battle. 

“We got the [Afghan forces] we deserve,” Douglas Lute, an Army lieutenant general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. 

If the U.S. government had ramped up training between 2002 and 2006, “when the Taliban was weak and disorganized, things may have been different,” Lute added. “Instead, we went to Iraq. If we committed money deliberately and sooner, we could have a different outcome.”

It may be that we never really had a chance to achieve a desirable outcome but we made an alternative choice that appears to have precluded what chance there was.

Of course I cannot truly be surprised by pervasive “spin” about Afghanistan because of my experience in Kenya in 2007-2008 and the lack of response from the government and the official democracy assistance fraternity to the my disclosure of dishonesty in how we (the U.S. Government) addressed election fraud in Kenya and how we handled the inconvenient exit poll showing an opposition win and some of the inconvenient things we witnessed as election observers at the polls. [Not to mention what we all knew about Iraq by 2007.]

Even though most “name brand” experts and U.S. Government funded institutions seem to agree that globally democracy is in some form of recession, it is hard to know whether serious and purposeful United States-funded democracy assistance programming might have potential benefits because most of the money and effort has gone to war adjunct “nation building” as in Afghanistan where it turns out that nearly everyone has “privately” been admitting that we do not know what we are doing or should be doing and thus have no real chance of genuine success.

During my time with the International Republican Institute in the late Bush Administration the dominant “democracy promotion” or “democracy assistance” programs were Iraq followed by Sudan. Shortly after I finished my time in the barrel in Kenya in mid-2008 the venerable Center for Strategic and International Studies convened a blue ribbon panel to look at the reputation problem of the term “democracy promotion” due to the association with experimental “expeditionary warfare” in Iraq. Thus the pivot from “democracy promotion” to “democracy assistance”.

By the later Obama years Afghanistan, followed by Iraq and newly severed but but failing South Sudan were getting most of the democracy assistance dollars.

A Government Accountability Office report on Democracy Assistance, GAO-18-136, notes “Total USAID democracy assistance funding for projects in Afghanistan was greater than for any other country, amounting to almost 39 percent of USAID’s total democracy assistance obligations during fiscal years 2012 through 2015.” Here are the totals for the top fourteen USAID democracy assistance FY 2012-16 “places of performance”:

Afghanistan 1,650M

Iraq 238M

Regional/Global 201M

South Sudan 159M

Mexico 102M

Columbia 86M

Honduras 81M

Pakistan 79M

Bangladesh 76M

Haiti 73M

Liberia 68M

Egypt 65M

Kenya 60M

Indonesia 60M

*Note this is just USAID and does not encompass the separate Department of Defense and State programs, and much smaller amounts from the National Endowment for Democracy.

Back in 2007 in Kenya, a country on the brink of crisis, but supposedly of vital interest to the United States, most of the democracy assistance money being spent in the country was the “back office” operations for the vast (as measured in dollars anyway) pre-independence Southern Sudan operation.

People in Washington paid so little attention to democratization in Kenya in 2007 as to fail to realize or at least act on the risks of having the Ambassador “looking and pointing the other way” as Kibaki rather openly stole re-election (even though the opposition was also pro-Western and friendly to the United States so there was no bona fide nation interest served by those Americans who subverted our own meagre democracy assistance program).

In 2013, even after the disaster of 2007, we deliberately chose the path of non-transparency when our funded purchasing of the Results Transmission System for the election was botched and the system failed to work. Kenya’s Supreme Court shut down a partial recount that showed serious problems and affirmed the questionable tally of the Electoral Commission (litigating with undisclosed American-funded assistance) to avoiding by a whisker the runoff that the pre-election polls predicted. The Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the procurement fraud cases, but the Kenyan executive authorities simply ignored the order. My FOIA research so far documents discussion among the donors involved in the UNDP “basket fund” including the United States, whether to cooperate with a subsequent investigation by Kenya’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, but I do not know the outcome as I continue awaiting processing of remaining documents from my 2015 request to USAID.

In hindsight, I should have read more into the decision of my late friend Joel Barkan to stay home and “watch” that election from Washington. By 2017, the incumbent Kenyan government was clearly not committed to providing a level playing field and I stayed home myself. No incumbent Kenyan president has been found by a Kenyan election commission to have failed to “win” his re-election. The misfeasance on the technology for 2017 was blatant enough in that instance for the Supreme Court to annul the presidential vote, in spite of diplomatic and observer support for the announced outcome. The environment was too fraught with mistrust at that point to provide a mutually acceptable platform for a re-vote and Kenyatta was re-inaugurated after an opposition boycott.

Kenya’s political class is now focussed primarily on the 2022 campaign. The joint “Building Bridges Initiative” report released this month proposes that the remants of the Electoral Commission of Kenya from the 2017 vote be “bought out” and a new commission constituted, as was done following the problems in 2007 and 2013, but no action to implement this is yet pending.

In the meantime, much our policy in Somalia has been a variable secretive melange of counterterrorism, war and nation building with a sprinkling of democracy assistance. There is no Special Inspector General for the war in Somalia so we will not have created the kind of record that the Washington Post has been able to obtain on Afghanistan, but perhaps someday we will all know more. By May 2006 the Post did report: “U.S. Secretly Backing Warlords in Somalia” and by that December we secretly supported the Ethiopian military invasion to re-instate the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.

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.

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.

Should the United States offer to replace Ugandan and Burundian troops in AMISOM?

Hargeysa Somaliland Gate

This is in the nature of a “thought experiment” rather than an actual suggestion at this point, but here goes rough sketch of the basic points:

1) We all recognize–whether we are willing to publicly admit it–that Somalia is in a “permanent” war state although progress has been made from the lowest ebbs over the years. Somalia is like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen in the sense that it is a place in which perpetual fighting appears indefinitely sustainable pending some major change.

2) The current phase of the civil war in Somalia started in December 2006 with a full scale invasion by Ethiopia, with US support, at the invitation of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), to displace the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) with a re-instated TFG. In early 2007 this gave way to the multilateral AMISOM “peace-keeping” military force of surplus Subsaharan African national troops seconded by their governments. Funding came from the EU and UN, passed through the African Union.

3) As we approach the 12th anniversary of the Ethiopian invasion with the Somali Federal Government (SFG) having significant influence but not consolidated military or civilian control of the country, we all know that there is no immediate prospect of a complete military defeat of Al Shabaab, the al Queda affiliate that coalesced in the breakdown of the ICU in the fighting in 2006-07. Al Shabaab at present no longer controls any major cities, following the Kenyan-led assault on Kismayo in 2012, but has sustaining financial support and territory, and seems to have wider influence in Kenyan territory in particular than in the past. Likewise the latest International Crisis Group report indicates increased influence in Tanzania.

4) Somalia has not had a clearly established national government since 1991– presumably before most of the foot soldiers on any of the sides were born.

5) Ugandan and Burundian troops have been provided to AMISOM by Museveni and Nkrurunziza, the “elected dictators” of Uganda and Burundi, respectively. Under this arrangement the United States provides training and support, and a patina of international legitimacy, to forces under the command of Musveni and Nkurunziza and they in turn loan out on a fully reimbursed basis some of those forces to the EU and UN through the AU.

6) Conceptually, the advantage to the United States from this arrangement, as I once heard it put a few years ago from a military perspective, is “better them than us.” The advantage to Museveni and Nkurunziza is leverage vis-a-vis the United States, the EU, the UK, the UN and the AU. For the AU the arrangement provides at no cost superficial prestige and legitimacy.

7) The disadvantage for the United States is that it also gives Museveni and Nkurunziza superficial prestige and legitimacy in spite of their repudiation of democratic values. It also gives a hint of reverse leverage in the relationship. Rwandan strongman Kagame has explicitly tried to exploit his dispensation of surplus troops to the UN mission in Darfur to ulterior advantage, for an example of the implications. This creates complications and risks in our relationships in East and Central Africa, whatever the perceived savings in regard to the Horn and Somalia.

8) Museveni and Nkurunziza do not have the mitigating factors on their side that buy indulgence for Kagame, whether legitimately or not. Kagame assuages our feelings of guilt or exposure to embarrassment for not taking action to try to stop the genocide in 1994 during the Rwandan civil war, by operating a micro-model of repressive developmentalism in tiny Rwanda. Those equities are simply not in play for Museveni or Nkurunziza who have chosen to become aggressively repressive anyway. Thus U.S. military partnership and EU funding Uganda and Burundi arguably become nakedly hypocritical and opportunistic.

9) Over the years of the fighting in Somalia the United States has significantly drawn down its forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We have now significantly increased our overall defense budget. It would seem that direct deployment of United States military personnel for the type of “peacekeeping” fighting engaged in by Ugandan and Burundian forces would be relatively easier now than in the earlier years if this iteration of the war in Somalia.

10) Meanwhile, questions have continued to grow about the sustainability of Museveni’s repressive government as he has continued to accelerate past the off ramps for peaceful transition. Thus, the quandary for the United States in using his forces in support of notionally democratic nation building outside the country while the idea of democratic nation building recedes within Uganda itself.

Barack Obama, son of American anthropologist, retired President USA, stops in Kenya on way to South Africa after safari

Ten years after 2008 campaign, the “Birthers” have won for now in the U.S., but Obama remains a positive symbol with time for another act:

Former President Obama stopped in Kenya on his way to South Africa, his third visit to Kenya since arriving on the national political scene in the United States in 2004 as an Illinois state legislator through a speech at the Democratic Convention that nominated John Kerry to challenge the re-election of George W. Bush.

It is now ten years since I returned to the United States with my family from our year-long East Africa democracy assistance sojourn in Nairobi in the wake of the failed 2007 election, the post-election violence, and February 28 “peace deal”. The day we flew out of JKIA for Amsterdam en route to Atlanta on the way home to Mississippi I was first exposed to the “birther” conspiracy theory through a front page story in the Daily Nation.

Many may not remember fully now, but recognize that in its inception the “birther” conspiracy theory was not just the idea that then-Senator Obama was secretly born in Kenya, and secretly smuggled into the United States as an infant, and thus not technically eligible to be elected President. It also fit into the context of the claims that Obama was involved as a U.S. Senator from Illinois in 2007 in a conspiracy with Raila Odinga to steal Kenya’s election on behalf of Muslims, with killing of Christians and embellished from there into a narrative that rather than a loyal American Obama was essentially on the side of al-Queda and the global jihad to establish a sharia-enforcing caliphate. That Obama was in essence on the other side of the war being fought by Americans in the “surge” led by Bush and General Petraeus in Iraq as well as the fundamental underlying values of our democratic republic and Western democracy in general.

The conspiracy theories about the 2007 Kenyan election faded somewhat over time–partly because of the peace deal that put Odinga in Kibaki’s government as Prime Minister where he continued to be friendly to the West and partly because it became clearer that the election was stolen by Kibaki’s side which controlled the ECK (and not by the opposition which didn’t). Reports at the time from the American right at the Heritage Foundation think tank and National Review magazine (“Inside Kenya’s clumsily rigged election” Jan 4, 2008 National Review Online) noting the theft of the election helped American conservatives who cared about facts avoid getting sucked into nonsense about a Luo jihad involving “tribesman” Obama and “cousin” Raila.

While there remain a few holdouts who claim that “we can’t know” who won in Kenya’s 2007 election, they seem to be pretty well limited to personally interested parties at this point with the release of the State Department cables showing that our Ambassador Ranneberger himself saw tallies being changed at the ECK and claimed to have encouraged the late ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu to withstand the pressure to declare Kibaki the winner anyway, even though Ranneberger knew that the Chairman had no way to control the Committee which was thoroughly stacked by Kibaki in the weeks and months before the election.

Once it is recognized that the vote tallies were actually changed at the ECK, Americans–most especially rock-ribbed traditional stalwarts attracted to “the Tea Party” and/or Donald Trump’s “neopatriotism”–will understand that Kenyans had a duty not just a right to protest the 2007 election. Americans would not trust biometric voter registration (or tolerate secret voter lists) but most certainly the traditional American narrative would demand that we march on our county courthouses if our votes were simply changed by our election officials. Ranneberger’s pre-election cables to Washington made clear that as of that time, the Kenyan courts were not independent and would provide no recourse so that voters would be forced to go to the streets if there was fraud that became known.

Once you legitimize protesting the actions of the ECK, and recognize that the largest category of deaths in the Post Election Violence, per the Waki Commission, were those shot by Kibaki’s security forces, and the largest number that were identifiable by tribe were Luo, then the whole notion of some extraneous evil conspiracy somehow involving Obama and the global jihad as the reason for the post election violence becomes that much more irrational. The portion of violence in the Rift Valley that then-Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer insisted on calling “ethnic cleansing” in a January 2008 visit (a label not adopted in Washington) was conducted by Kalenjin militia in the pattern employed by KANU in 1992 and 1997. KANU was a religiously diverse secular party that sought to maintain single-party hegemony through compliant cadres among all major tribes and religious groupings in accordance with its political needs. No suggestion that Moi, who personally identified as a Protestant Christian, was a secret Muslim jihadi even though the victims may have been mostly Christians.

The International Republican Institute/University of California, San Diego exit poll funded by USAID (the one showing an Odinga presidential win by roughly six points that was embargoed for six months) gave more evidence in the details that the 2007 election contest was driven, as normal in Kenyan, by tribal rather than religious alignment with Odinga shown as winning a majority of self-identified Christians and of Muslims (although the margin was greater among Muslims). On the other hand, there was a “gender gap” with women favoring Kibaki and men Odinga.

It may also seem hard to remember now but by January 2009 Obama was sworn in to a wave of good feeling with high approval numbers. He had campaigned as a pragmatic moderate Democrat who was against dumb wars and only for smart ones, a Christian who grew up with limited religion who was popular with the irreligious left, the Christian left and made some real inroads courting what we call “Evangelicals” who were not part of the more politicized harder “Religious Right”. The inaugural celebrations seemed to suggest some real healing from the cultural rifts from “the Sixties” and “Vietnam” that featured so prominently in presidential campaigns throughout my lifetime, as well as a milestone to show that we had come so far in overcoming racial prejudice in the post-Civil Rights era that black/white racial issues were no longer much a part of those cultural rifts. Maybe we had more in common than our political leaders had been telling us since the rise of Fox News and the Bill Clinton impeachment saga; maybe this president could be a “uniter not a divider” where his predecessor had failed. In part this failure was because the Bush political operation ended up pulling a “bait-and-switch” by mobilizing gullible church networks to support the invasion of Iraq for regime change using a claimed causus belli of active chemical/biological and nuclear weapons programs then firing up the culture wars further to drive turnout to get re-elected over John Kerry. This was a bad error of moral judgment that has continued to reverberate through American politics.

Kerry was certainly a Yankee patrician from “central casting” — as Kenyans well know from the 2017 election — but was unquestionably accurate in pointing out in debate with Bush that we had gotten “stuck in Iraq”. Of course Kerry was too polite, patrician and/or patriotic to go for the jugular and trash Bush for Iraq the the way Donald Trump did in his 2016 campaign.

For saying that we were “stuck in Iraq” Kerry got pilloried as “unpatriotic” aside from the “Swift Boat” sliming he got over his military service in Vietnam–conveniently not a problem for Clinton, Bush, Cheney or Trump who all managed in various ways not to get sent, and unlike Kerry, did not volunteer to actually go to Vietnam. Nonetheless, the unhealed cultural wounds were still such almost 30 years after the fall of Saigon that Vietnam was a winner for Bush over Kerry in spite of Iraq.

Part of the reason that Obama took office with a waive of good feeling and better numbers than he had during the election was that McCain declined to play along with trashing Obama in the darker ways and treated him as a legitimate political adversary. It was good for the country and gave Obama a fair start in office.

“Birtherism,” though, in spite of McCain’s choice, became an enduring American movement which has had a profound effect on our politics and transformed the Republican Party with which I had been involved for much of my life.

Ultimately, the Birther Movement became a tool for Donald Trump as an outsider to gain “free media” and attention and admiration with those who were otherwise profoundly afraid of or opposed to the Obama presidency.

People like John McCain and George W. Bush or his family members in politics, whatever their faults and mistakes on policy choices (even the really big one, invading Iraq, which McCain acknowledges in his latest book, The Restless Wave) were too experienced, too educated, and too well advised to believe craziness about Obama being secretly smuggled into the U.S. as a Kenyan child (although the McCain campaign did check it out to make sure as did the McClatchy newspaper chain) and were morally constrained, in my judgment at least, from deliberately lying about it to hurt Obama. If you cannot buy that it was morals, at least we can agree that they were restrained by a judgment that it was better politics to stay out of that gutter. Hillary Clinton also stayed away (even if one credits the report that her adviser Sidney Blumenthal triggered the McClatchy review to make sure their was nothing to it).

Donald Trump was not similarly constrained and his hectoring of Obama put him in the front row of politics in America. He shared headlines with Obama even as Osama bin-Laden was being killed by the Navy under Obama’s command. Not one to accept defeat in an argument by being proven factually wrong, in this case by the release of Obama’s long form Hawaii birth certificate, Trump bided his time and cranked the Movement back up for his presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016, discarding it once he had seized the agenda and the Republican Party and the specific “birther” claim was no longer useful to him.

It has been a bit surreal for me to see this happen. Educated middle class Americans of my generation (Obama’s essentially) have a lot to answer for in our complacency I am afraid. Our democratic republic requires more attention and effort than we have delivered in recent years whatever our party or policy preferences.

Fortunately, just as Obama himself has, we hope, time for other acts in his public life as an American after elective politics, the Trump presidency too shall pass and the Birther Movement will be a strange chapter in political history books. It will leave scars and I expect that Trump will be willing to use other lies for domestic advantage that will manipulate gullible people and torque emotions on difficult and divisive social matters. But in the longer term I think we will rise to the occasion and get to a better range of equilibrium. We have significant long term challenges on poverty, education, healthcare and economic mobility and government debt that have been building up during our protracted wartime, but I think Americans getting more engaged and rolling up our sleeves to work on solutions.

Trump as an individual is something of a fluke. Most of the people who voted for him have little in common with him really. I know this because they are my peers, my extended family and friends to a great extent. He lost the national popular vote in a low turnout election. Trump won in large part because neither Obama nor the Clintons succeeded in building a Democratic Party that was seriously competitive in much of the country.

The big difference as of now is that Trump as president in our system still has far less power than the president in any of the East African countries. He will leave office at by the end of his lawful first term or his second if re-elected.

On balance, I think that we will see American policy in its relations with Kenya in the Trump years to continue to be largely a continuation of that under Obama, as reflected in the American approach to supporting both the 2013 election with John Kerry as Secretary of State and 2017 with Kerry as chief election observer and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, with Bob Godec as “our man in Kenya” throughout. Just as Obama’s relationship with Kenya in its policy aspects was primarily a continuation of the approach under George W. Bush.

There have been a few major inflection points in the American/Kenyan relationship in the last twenty years, but most have not been specific to whoever was president in either Washington or Nairobi.

The first,of course, was the al-Queda Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, kicking off the ongoing conflict between the U.S. and Kenya against various Islamist “violent extremists”. As reflected in the Mombasa rocket attack, the USS Cole bombing, the bombing in Kampala, the various attacks in Kenya, most notoriously the Westgate Mall and Garissa University killings, a persistent understood risk of terrorist incidents have been a regional “fact of life” since. For most Kenyans who are not well secured in their daily bread, and face many bigger daily risks of violent death, terrorism is not quite so central as is to Americans, but has still inevitably shaped both sides of the relationship over the last two decades. And in this context, after 9/11 and our ensuing land wars in South Asia, with the establishment of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa base in Djibouti Kenya resumed its regional security role along the lines established in the 1970s and 80s when the United States was fighting the Cold War and Kenyatta and Moi wanted protection from Idi Amin and Siad Barre and the kind of relationship that would be useful to them in avoiding disruption to their domestic rule.

The next inflection point, albeit of lesser magnitude from an American standpoint, was the retirement of Moi and the transition to NARC and Kibaki.

Next was the demise of NARC and the failure of constitutional reform with the 2005 referendum. Relatedly the Anglo Leasing scandal showed security and counter-terrorism were for sale at high levels along with the baseline of corruption in the police and security services that let terrorists move about and in and out of the country. The Artur Brothers and the Standard flamboyantly highlighted the rot.

Next and finally was the start of the war in Somalia to save and reinstate the Transitional Federal Government and oust the ICU in December 2006.

Since that time the United States Government has continued to have and support all our other existing priorities in Kenya such as lifesaving humanitarian health support through PEPFAR and other lower profile programs, food assistance and small farm agricultural support, along with supporting all sorts of philanthropic type programs and the somewhat more controversial “big development” initiatives like Power Africa, frequently in cooperation with other donors.

In recent years we also started devoted more governmental focus to promoting international private financial investment, such as the 2015 U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation investment in the Dubai-based Abraaj Growth Markets Health Fund, L.P., that has been active in the Nairobi private healthcare market prior to recently entering liquidation under circumstances being investigated.

Nonetheless, in the meantime we have been at war in a country with a huge border with Kenya. A country during during much of these last 11 1/2 years which has been too dangerous to support a full diplomatic and aid presence and has thus had those parts of the effort supported from Kenya, as well as a smaller role for Kenya as a host for some U.S. defense forces in addition to those at our base in Djibouti. And from reading the newspapers back in the day and a few books it is apparent that Kenya provided some military support for the invasion by the Ethiopian military at the time to contain potential spread of terrorism.

And in 2011, during Kibaki’s second term, with the support of Prime Minister Odinga, Kenya entered the war directly and formally in its own right.

Roughly nine months later the Kenya Defense Forces were admitted into the AU’s AMISOM peacekeeping collaboration, allowing for financial reimbursement through the Western donors, and eventually drove al-Shabaab, now formally asserting affiliation with al Queda, out of their previous position of direct control of the port at Kismayo (not to say that al Shabaab did not continue to apparently benefit from the illicit charcoal and sugar trade through the port).

A few months before the Ethiopians were invited to restore the TFG in Mogadishu, our Ambassador Bellamy finished his service and Ambassador Ranneberger was similarly appointed by President Bush from the Foreign Service. Within a few months after the start of the war Ranneberger sent a cable to Washington explaining that his approach for “achieving U.S. objectives in Kenya’s elections” was to stay quiet on the debates on constitutional reform and election reform and “build capital” with the incumbent. With the perturbation of the 2008 crisis and the intervention for constitutional reform up through 2010, this has remained the baseline beat of our relationship over the years.

Will the recent moves by Kenya’s dominant new Jubilee Party to align with Communist Party of China structures and philosophy to accompany its huge borrowings from the Chinese State cause any serious rethink in Washington? I have no idea, but it certainly does not seem to have captured any particular place in the priorities of either the retired President Obama or current President Trump.

“Six Years An Ambassador” : Godec’s Kenya valedictory with Macharia Gaitho

Macharia Gaitho seems to have been of late the designated Kenyan columnist to convey certain background perspectives from the American Embassy.  His April 8 Sunday Nation column provides in interview form a review by outgoing Ambassador Godec of his tenure and the position of the State Department at present.

For me the primary “takeaway” is, as the Nation headlined, the continued/renewed statement of the need for “national dialogue”. The issues were apparent from the 2017 election going back to the 2007-08 election. The “handshake” of a month ago is said to open an opportunity for that dialogue. Likewise the U.S. position is reiterated on the status of the October 26 election and Kenyatta as legitimate per the IEBC and Supreme Court as the U.S. sees it.

I have not met Godec and I really do not have an opinion about him personally. I am not able to say, with the late American humorist Will Rogers, that “I never met a man I didn’t like” but I try to be able to say “I never dislike a man that I’ve never met.”

What makes me sad is that Godec as the Ambassador has been controversial and drawn more anger as well as more disappointment from many Kenyans than I have seen in the past.

Some of the heat would fall on the shoulders of anyone who was the voice of the controversial policies from Washington. Some of it reflects more specifically the reasons that “national dialogue” is needed: the 2008 “peace deal” got only perhaps half-executed and a lot of Kenyans are unenthused as they should be about getting the short end of the stick over the past ten years from their own government. As a “friend” of the Government of Kenya we naturally find ourselves with some “guilt by association” from the Kenyan public. And of course some of it is the behind the scenes stuff that we Americans back home have to hope to evaluate, someday, from the media or private conversations with insiders or the Freedom of Information Act, if ever.

Godec was candid enough to acknowledge that “peace” was prioritized first as a “must” in United States foreign policy in regard to Kenyan elections as but noted that we continued to also support other equities of justice and fairness. For instance, we support  allowing civil society freedom to operate. Nothing was said however to indicate we ourselves need to take a fresh look at our own role in supporting the election mechanisms or our role in supporting reform and transparency out of our own experience in these last three Kenyan election cycles.

It perhaps goes without saying that we no longer mention any notion or prospect of justice for the victims of the 2007-08 post election violence. (Or pre-election 2013 for that matter.) That was something we always used to talk about.

Ambassador Godec noted that his biggest regret was the ongoing security situation as reflected in the Westgate and Garissa University attacks. I assume we are not waiting for those reports from the Government of Kenya on those attacks that Kenyans have been waiting on. (Of course both Kenya and the United States remain at war in Somalia as we were when the Ambassador arrived as Charge in 2012.)

The biggest thing that really struck me from Ambassador Godec’s interview was that there are now 28,000 Americans living in Kenya. More people have been realizing what a great place to live Kenya can be if you are an American, as I can attest. I hope that’s a good thing.

I also hope the Ambassador will sit down with The Elephant as a newer Kenyan publication that is able to generate more depth on current controversies than the big media groups usually feel able.

“Africa is a Command” – Bush to Obama to Trump

By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial. Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly. What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?

Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that.  From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides.  With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington.  And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.

The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).

I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08.  It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.

I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics.  In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.

So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?

It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.

Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”?  [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]

One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations  across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda.  Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.

I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status quo ante and any realistic alternatives).  Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, not only American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work.  But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience. Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.

Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.

My Memorial Day post: If a President Al Gore had invaded Iraq in 2003 with the support of Sen. Hillary Clinton . . .

all the current GOP presidential candidates would agree now that it was a foolish act of hubris given that the administration had in hindsight clearly been shown to have simply not known what they were doing.

I am not now nor have I even been a member of the Democratic party.  I worked in the defense industry throughout the whole bloody course of the Iraq war.  I even voted for George W Bush that first time in 2000 even though I knew deep down he had very thin, maybe too thin, experience on foreign and national security policy.  (In my defense I will say that I don’t think I should have been expected to know how strongly opposed many of his most senior advisers and subsequent appointees would turn out to be to the values he expressed in seeking our votes in his campaign that year.)

I certainly did not wish him to fail, nor did I wish the harm experienced by my country or by Iraq and its region from that decision but I cannot pretend it away.  It seems to me to be deeply misconceived for citizens of a democratic republic to create an “identity politics” around the competition of parties to the point of transcending a larger patriotism, moral and spiritual values, even the ability to observe and process basic facts.  Over 4000 Americans and over 100000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the Iraq war and the pre-ISIS aftermath and no one who wants to be the “leader of the free world” can plausibly duck an assessment of this war, of our choice, because of the identify of the party of the Commander in Chief at the time.

Part of the reason I took leave from my job and moved my family to East Africa in 2007 to work on democracy assistance is that I had seen how badly we were screwing up our relationships in the world by having embraced a doctrine of “preemptive war” that traditionally might have been seen as unworthy of our national ethos by both “hawks” and “doves” of other generations.  And how our biggest democracy assistance program, by far, was going in Iraq were it was in many respects too late in the wake of the invasion, as opposed to places like Kenya and Somaliland that were not at war where we had a bona fide opportunity to make a positive contribution.  The suspicions and damaged credibility of our country made the work more challenging even among those inclined to a positive view of our aspirations.

Other than the “moral injury” to our country as a whole, the Iraq war did me no personal harm–my taxes didn’t go up so my kids presumably get stuck with the bill, although it might cramp my Social Security and Medicare down the road.  I worked primarily in Navy shipbuilding, on which going to war or not going to war had relatively little business impact; we didn’t build more or less ships than we would have if we had not gone into Iraq from 2003-11.  Before we launched the invasion I was convinced by a senior friend in the industry who had been a naval officer that the sectarian situation in Iraq was beyond our grasp and I did not see the decision to launch the war as anything other than a huge risk that would have been warranted only by an extreme immediate threat which the Iraqi regime simply did not pose by any reasoned assessment.

But here at home now my dry cleaner is an Iraqi Christian.  Before we invaded, he was a medical doctor, a specialist, in his country, as was his wife.  He runs the cleaners himself six days a week, but will be closed and with his family for Memorial Day.  I’ll think of him with gratitude that he was able to get here and for the relative safety and freedom he has here, but with sadness that we elected to reach for the war hammer rather than have the patience to continue to turn the diplomatic screw in 2003 and in so doing upended his life, that of his family and community and his country.  (See Waiting for An Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq by Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi, excerpted here.  A must read, to accompany all the war and political reporting, on life for middle class Iraqis following the invasion, for those who want to learn from the war.)

I will mourn those Americans who gave their lives for the endeavor, especially those young people who volunteered out of patriotism to protect our country in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.  The rest of us collectively let them down and the very least that is required of us now is to learn from their sacrifice and do better together whatever our preferences of party or domestic ideology.

I will also be thinking with gratitude of my uncle who volunteered for the Navy in World War II as a 17 year old on the family farm after Pearl Harbor, made it home from the Pacific and is still with us at 90.  He he told me years ago that he did not believe we had any business taking it on ourselves to invade Iraq to change the regime without the support of the United Nations that we created with our allies in the wake of that war that he and his “greatest generation” fought at high but shared cost.  And his grandson, serving in the Air Force now, with his own young son.  Let us use his service wisely, with a judicious and open debate over what we ask him to do for us, being honest enough with ourselves to learn from the experiences that have cost the lives of others.
 

 

 

“War, Guns and Votes”? What will be the impact of Kenya’s war with Al Shabaab on the 2012/13 election?

AfriCommons, on FlickrGoing For Water

After three months it is now quite clear, if it wasn’t always, that Kenya’s military offensive against Al Shabaab across the border and into the Jubbaland region will be of indefinite duration rather than any type of quick strike. The fact that Kenya has sought and obtained UN approval for its forces to be added into the AMISOM “peacekeeping” mandate makes it clear that the Kenyan government does not have intentions to achieve any predetermined goals, declare victory and withdraw.

This creates an important dynamic in regard to the Kenyan election that doesn’t seem to be getting the discussion it deserves. A number of questions: will the heightened security requirements associated with the threat of terrorism from Al Shabaab also help secure the country against election violence? Or will security forces be used to intervene in the campaign instead, as in 2007? Will donors and international institutions supporting the election process be that much more unwilling to challenge electoral misconduct for the sake of perceived “stability”? Will Al Shabaab attempt to disrupt the elections or the campaign, or international support efforts? Will his role in the process enhance the campaign prospects for George Saitoti? What will be the impact on other candidates? What will be the impact on the presidential campaigns’ appeals to Muslim voters and organizations and will there be efforts by candidates to mobilize votes on the basis of religious tensions as well as ethnicity? I could go on and will try to explore this in coming posts.

Here is the latest summary on the war from the African Conflict Prevention Program from the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria:

Somalia: Kenya’s Military Offensive in Somalia

Kenya’s defence minister, Yusuf Haji, has called on the international community to provide logistical and financial support for his country’s on-going military offensive against Al-Shabaab in Somalia, particularly to enable the operation to take over the port-town of Kismayo. In justifying his call, the minister argued that even though Kenya’s Operation Linda Nchi was in response to a provocation by Al-Shabaab, Kenya is acting broadly in the collective interest of advancing international peace and security and fighting terror. It therefore requires the support of the international community in order to meet its objectives. Haji stated that the prime aim of the operation is to create a buffer on the Somali side of the border which should prevent the incursion of armed groups into Kenya. The debates and expectations of taking over Kismayo, in his view, are only imaginary.

The call for resources comes in the wake of developments regarding the United States’ withdrawal from Iraq and the recent United Nations endorsement of the merging of the Kenyan Defence Forces into the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Within this context, there are good chances of Haji’s call being heeded by international actors and stakeholders. The uncertainty concerning the taking of Kismayo, however, raises two key issues. Firstly, in the event that the strategically important town remains untaken it would ensure that Al-Shabaab would remain a strong threat. Furthermore, the group can continually access the necessary resources needed to resist Kenya’s incursion. Secondly, given the expectations that have been built among the public about the taking of Kismayo, any delay or a change in strategy needs to be clearly communicated to Kenyans so as to help sustain public support for Operation Linda Nchi. This will help allay the perception that operational challenges and Kenyan fatalities have prevented the taking of Kismayo.

In a related development, Al-Shabaab is reported to have elevated Sheikh Ahmad Iman Ali, a leader of the Muslim Youth Center in Kenya, to the position of supreme leader (Emir) for the Al-Shabaab cell in Kenya. Sheikh Ali and his organisation have in the past been blamed for supporting Al-Shabaab through fundraising and the recruitment of fighters. He is known to have been operating in Somalia since 2009. His elevation appears to be a move by the group to organise its activities in Kenya more robustly in order to be able to take the battle into Kenya. Moreover, this comes in the wake of security alerts by western embassies in Nairobi that a terror plot seems to be underway. Sheikh Ali, has also created propaganda videos and called upon jihadists in and outside Kenya to join his cause. In a recent video produced by Al-Kataib Media Foundation, the official video wing of Al-Shabaab, Sheikh Ali appealed to the group’s loyalists to join the battle, declaring Kenya a war zone and Somalia a land of jihad.

Here is the link to a new policy paper from Ken Menkhaus for the Enough Project: “After the Kenyan Intervention in Somalia”.