The “war on terror” is back with a bang. First Afghanistan, then Iraq and now Somalia. And Iran could well be the next Islamic nation to be bombarded by the US – as President George W Bush telegraphed in his “surge” speech on Wednesday.
The Pentagon is thus already well engaged in its self-described “arc of instability” that runs from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East and the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Himalayas. President Hugo Chavez’s tropical Venezuela may not be Islamic, but he’s taking no chances – especially after the incendiary promise in his re-inauguration of “socialism or death”.
“Surge” is now a global household name. It refers to the US attack on Africans in Somalia in search for elusive al-Qaeda masterminds – but they missed the main targets. It includes North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) killing scores of alleged Taliban in Paktika province in Afghanistan this week. The dead may have been 80, or may have been 150; nobody really knows about civilian casualties because there’s not a single journalist in the area and NATO may spin what it wants. The Taliban say the dead are all civilians.
Surge also applies to the Pentagon getting into the business of attacking foreign consulates, confiscating national flags, computers and arresting people, as it happened with an Iranian diplomatic mission – according to Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini – in Irbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.
How to manufacture “terror”
US military circles dubbed it “a significant strategic shift” when Donald Rumsfeld, in one of his last tasks as defense secretary, set the stage for the birth of the African Command – a lean, mean fighting machine that will broaden the mandate of the born-in-2002 Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. The latter had been locked in “war on terror” mode in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and Yemen.
The US military base in Djibouti – home of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Special Forces who helped to design the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia – will be the headquarters of the African Command.
Bets could be made on how many CIA/Pentagon analysts understand what’s actually going on in the black void of the Horn of Africa. It’s basically a vicious war of all against all – which in a sinister tragicomedy of errors happens to have been fueled by the Pentagon itself.
Somalia is 100% Muslim and is populated by only one ethnic group, speaking a single, unified language. Like all over the Arab world, this is a clannish society – six major clans, hundreds of sub-clans. When dictator Siad Barre was deposed in 1991, the inevitable result was clannish-based civil war.
American know of Black Hawk Down on October 1993 in Mogadishu – not least because of Ridley Scott’s swooping Panavision moves. And of course there’s Hawa Elmi, aka the Black Hawk Down lady, a former nomad from the Somali desert who lives in Tokyo and charges US$3 admission to anyone who wants to contemplate a battered Black Hawk nose.
The US was kicked out of Somalia in 1992. The United Nations left in 1995. What was left behind was beyond Mad Max – or the Taliban heyday: an absolutely failed state infested with “technicals” – pickups with mounted machine guns and anti-aircraft cannons roaming around a deserted wasteland filled with demented, drugged adrenaline junkies, the mooryaan, shooting, raping and pillaging at random.
Then came the attacks on the US of September 11, 2001. For Washington, this black void – a violent, government-deprived Islamic wasteland – simply could not be tolerated. The US tried to impose some sort of government. A UN-sanctioned, inevitably unpopular warlord, Abdullahi Yusuf, was rushed to power. But he was the wrong warlord – according to the three others who actually controlled Mogadishu, profiting from piracy, cell phone-smuggling and heavy trafficking of qat – the ubiquitous, local euphoric plant. Yusuf would “rule” only his own backyard in Baidoa (echoes of Hamid Karzai in Kabul).
Mogadishu then developed into the realm of Islamic courts – the local, practical, business-sector solution of using sharia (Islamic law) to regulate society. The courts are of course clannish. But in 2004 they finally congregated under the banner of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).
Washington inevitably freaked out, big time – and responded the “war on terror” way. The CIA showered guns and gold on those three unsavory warlords – sort of a remix of Afghanistan 2001. The Bush administration could not be more warlord-friendly, even violating a UN arms embargo. The warlords formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (a CIA suggestion, perhaps?) In theory, this alliance went after al-Qaeda. In practice, it fought the ICU.
Thus Papa got a brand new war – the alliance against the courts.
When in doubt, invade
Once again the American scheme went spectacularly wrong. The courts were able to regiment support from all over southern Somalia. The warlords were expelled from Mogadishu. And the courts took over the whole city. For all Western cries of Talibanization, this was not a Taliban state – not even a new Saudi Arabia.
For six months the ICU managed to impose something Somalia had not had a glimpse of during 15 years of bloody, one-million-dead, civil war: order. Guns and qat were banned. The price paid by the population: no Western music and cinema. Only two assassins were executed – 12 times fewer people sent to the gallows than in Texas.
Finally, the capital was under law and order. The courts – although financed by private, wealthy Saudi Arabian and Gulf individuals – were not necessarily evolving into anything resembling Taliban Afghanistan. The chairman, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, wanted good relations with the UN, the US and the European Union. He strongly denied ties to al-Qaeda. The majority of Somalia is moderate.
Normally, left to their own devices, the Somalis would elect a moderate Islamic government with a huge popular mandate. Over neo-con Washington’s dead body, of course. With essential US clearance – and military training – neighboring archenemy Ethiopia, five times more populated than Somalia, decided to muddle through, sending no fewer than 15,000 troops to protect the innocuous, unelected “interim government” of warlord Yusuf.
Ethiopia is predominantly Christian, but with a huge and very impatient Islamic minority; no wonder Ethiopia’s corrupt dictator Meles Zenawi was concerned with the nightmare of Islamists in Somalia encouraging their Ethiopian brothers to rise. The Islamists in Mogadishu were clear: the Ethiopians were about to face a jihad. It took Menawi six months to make his move: profit from US military help, invade Somalia, “protect” Yusuf and depose the ICU.
A full regional conflagration is now in the cards. Eritrea, which may go to war with Ethiopia again, helps the ICU. Egypt and Yemen help Yusuf. The whole Kafkaesque spectacle spells the possibility of non-stop disaster in the Horn of Africa for years to come. The Pentagon’s African Command will have no problems justifying its budget.
After all, from Liberia to Sierra Leone, from Sudan to the Casamance region in Senegal, from Somalia to Congo, the stenographers of the “clash of civilizations” and the pawns of infinite war are just betting that hunger and ethnic and religious conflicts will coalesce into anti-Western and anti-US feeling and be the perfect conduit for the spread of radical Islam.
First you create chaos. Then you create “terror”, and then you expand your “war on terror” to every Islamic corner of the world.
So many demons, so little time
The ICU has joined Hamas and Hezbollah in official Washington demonology. It’s easy to preview the sequel. Those three, previously excluded, US-backed warlords who terrorized the country for years are taking over. The ICU people dissolved into the population – just like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Ba’athists in Iraq.
And a full-fledged Islamist guerrilla movement is being born. They will have plenty of targets to choose: Christian Ethiopian soldiers, warlord militias, “President” Yusuf’s people, the odd American. The Hawiye clan is very influential in Mogadishu. It will never accept a president from the Darod clan, like Yusuf.
As far as the White House, Pentagon, CIA triad is concerned, at least for the moment they are getting the big prize: a client regime in the highly strategic Horn of Africa, facing the Gulf of Aden, next door to the Arabian Sea, and a stone’s throw from the Persian Gulf. In addition – what else? – Somalia also happens to have oil.
Meanwhile, AC-130 gunships and Apache helicopters are raining hell on unsuspecting Africans. Despite barrages of spin, none of the top three alleged al-Qaeda masterminds responsible for the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania – Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan and Abu Taha al-Sudani – was killed.
But at least 31 people were, including two newly weds, on a US strike Tuesday near the Kenyan border, according to a Somali lawmaker – and this in addition to 19 civilians killed in a Sunday strike, according to villagers in Hayo.
For the Yusuf “government”, these are all “Islamic fighters”. As for the “credible intelligence” evoked by the Pentagon – arguably furnished by Menawi’s and Yusuf’s followers – it is certainly of the same caliber of the Pakistani intelligence which for so many times pinpointed the “exact whereabouts” of al-Qaeda’s number 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
It goes without saying that Ethiopia’s US-backed invasion of Somalia will generate a whirlwind of blowback. But that’s just one more battlefront in the lands of Islam. Arabs kicked out the British in Palestine, Algerians kicked out the French, Afghans kicked out the Russians, Lebanese kicked out the Americans and Israelis, Somalis kicked out the Americans, Iraqis will kick out the Americans.
Somalia is the new Afghanistan and also the new Iraq. Inevitably, Somalis will also kick out the US-backed Ethiopians. Until then, it’s “war on terror”, surge and targeted assassination time.