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Our Next Wars: Yemen and Somalia
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America’s clandestine activities in both nations only provoke the conflicts they are meant to prevent.

By Philip Giraldi

There appear to be some good business opportunities in Yemen, but they may not be what they seem. Yemen is the poorest Arab nation, and one of the poorest countries in the world, with an estimated annual per capita income of $1,061. It is running out of water, and production from its few oil fields is declining. Apart from that, it produces nothing and is increasingly becoming a center for drug trafficking. It is also corrupt, ranking 164th on Transparency International’s 2009 list, just ahead of Cambodia and the Central African Republic. It is a country that is remarkably devoid of resources or of a developed middle class of consumers, and it is best known for its ongoing multidimensional civil war, pitting the central government against various tribal groups. In spite of all that, there has been a surge in investment in the country by a number of small American companies — all the more remarkable as the U.S. economy itself has been in recession. A similar pattern is observable in Kenya, with an annual income of $912 and ranked just ahead of Yemen at 146th for corruption, and in Ethiopia, with an income of $390 per capita and coming in at 120 for corruption.

So what do these countries have in common? They are frontline states in the burgeoning but still secret phase three of the Global War on Terror being planned by the Pentagon and spy agencies with the concurrence of the Barack Obama White House. Those who thought there might be some kind of peace dividend with the Democrats holding the presidency can bid those thoughts goodbye. The administration is clearly thinking beyond Afghanistan (and even Iran), anticipating the next battlefronts in Yemen and Somalia. It is assiduously gathering resources to enter the fray, including setting up business fronts that can be used by covert operatives.

Why go through the subterfuge? First there is the American side of the story. Given the shrinking public support for Afghanistan, the White House does not want to telegraph that it is planning escalation into yet another war or even two wars, depending on how you count them. And then there are the concerns of the always shaky Yemeni government. Yemen, as part of the Arabian Peninsula regarded as sacred soil to Muslims, is extremely sensitive to the presence of foreign soldiers in uniform, an issue that has been exploited by al-Qaeda and other militant groups in neighboring Saudi Arabia. So the solution is to create an infrastructure of ostensibly private-sector enterprises that can serve as mechanisms for having American special ops soldiers and intelligence officers inside the country to gather information and assist the local government without appearing to do so. For the intelligence officers involved, this is called, not surprisingly, business cover. It is the sort of cover Valerie Plame used against possible nuclear-proliferation targets. Business cover is expensive to set up and maintain and the officers who work under it know that they will not have the protection of diplomatic immunity if they are caught in flagrante, though it is to be assumed that there is an understanding with the local governments that intelligence and other special-status personnel operating as civilians will be protected insofar as possible. What makes it all exceedingly tricky is the fact that the American intelligence agencies normally do not reveal all of their assets to the locals, even in those cases where the government supports the effort. The potential for an embarrassing incident is very high.

In Kenya and Ethiopia, the U.S. is similarly disinclined to have too heavy a footprint, as African Union willingness to persevere in Somalia is decidedly limited and could vanish altogether if it were seen as an American operation. The U.S. military’s African command, or AFRICOM, is actually located in Stuttgart, Germany, but its principal operational component is located at the large French military base Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. The CIA runs its drone operations targeting Somalia and Yemen out of that same location and has been using its assets on the ground in those countries to help direct predator strikes against suspected terrorist targets. CIA and special ops soldiers have been busy placing sensors and electronic surveillance devices throughout the Horn of Africa and in Yemen to permit greatly expanded operations. Both CIA and Army units in Djibouti have recently been beefed up in expectation that fighting will intensify in 2011.

And what is the nature of the threat justifying major military and intelligence operations in two new countries? Well, according to the State Department’s own recently issued report on global terrorism, the only terrorist incident originating in Yemen that directly threatened U.S. interests was the unsuccessful Nigerian underwear bomber in December, an attack that was carried out in retaliation for a deadly CIA drone strike shortly before. And there have been allegations that U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi might have influenced Major Malik Nadal Hasan’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood last November. Apart from that, terrorism in Yemen is internally directed with some spillover against neighbor Saudi Arabia. In Somalia, al-Shabaab, which the State Department describes as “a disparate group of armed militias, many of whom do not adhere to the ideology of the group’s leaders,” is the target of Washington’s ire. Foggy Bottom concedes that the group is linked to al-Qaeda only by “mutually supportive rhetoric.” It has not targeted the United States at all, though some government officials have expressed concerns that Somali-Americans who travel back to their country of birth to join al-Shabaab might return to the U.S. to commit terrorist acts.

So we are again talking of secret wars conducted in places where we do not understand the local issues or players very well, all part of a massive overreaction directed against low-level troublemakers who do not actually pose any serious threat against the United States. Where it will all lead is anyone’s guess, but it should be noted that the pattern of new terrorism emerging as the response to misdirected and heavy-handed American intervention has been repeated over and over again during the past ten years.


Philip Giraldi, a former CIA Officer, is the Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest. His “Deep Background” column appears every month exclusively in The American Conservative.

If you enjoyed this column, please support our work by making a tax-deductible contribution.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Somalia, Yemen 
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  1. Jack Ross says:

    This is not to say that I approve of the shenanigans in Yemen and Somalia, but to speak of it as “our next war” as though ground troops or even everything-but (a la Kosovo) are on the table is disingenuous and in intellectual bad faith. No, peace is not breaking out all over, but the efforts of conservative non-interventionists to be more leftist than the left on these issues (to say nothing of seeing the Tea Parties as being even remotely anti-interventionist) is increasingly unseemly.

  2. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:


    That bears repeating.

    As to Mr. Ross above, what is “intellectually dishonest”, or perhaps merely ignorant, is the premise that a war isn’t a war less boots on the ground. We are increasingly able to fight wars without either boots on the ground or “everything but”. It is a measure of how degraded our language for this has become that we now resort to Israeli-style definitions of war, self-defense and so forth. But make no mistake: a Predator strike is an act of war. Infiltration of military and intelligence assets into a foreign country and “targeted assassinations” are also acts of war. A good rule of thumb is that anything another country might do to us that we would consider an act of war would be interpreted similarly were we to do it.

    And in case anybody forgot, the current war is – or was – nominated “Global”.

  3. laurent says:

    Sigmund Freud and General George Marshall were right about the Middle East

    Sigmund Freud wrote in 1930
    “I do not think that Palestine could ever become a Jewish state, nor that the Christian and Islamic worlds would ever be prepared to have their holy places under Jewish care. It would have seemed more sensible to me to establish a Jewish homeland on a less historically-burdened land.”

    In 1948, General George Marshall and Defense Secretary James Forrestal opposed recognizing the State of Israel
    “In 1948, several members of Harry Truman’s Cabinet predicted that the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East would spur Arab violence against Jews and Americans, advising the president to shun Israel.
    These included Secretary of State George Marshall, Defense Secretary James Forrestal, and George Kennan, then the leading policy strategist in the State Department. They argued that if the United States helped to set up an independent Jewish nation it would provoke terrorist attacks on Americans and inaugurate an endless war between Arabs and Jews”.

    Does Israel Make Us Safer? by Thaddeus Russell

  4. Andrew says:

    Meanwhile, consider the Chinese. They set up business operations in foreign countries which actually return something tangible on the investment – copper, oil, minerals. (They may also provide cover for intelligence operatives, I don’t know). What a concept.

  5. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Well, if the war on Somalia starts, it’s going to be damn interesting up here in Jamestown, North Dakota:
    Near as I can figure, the overall concept is to grab every woman and child in Somalia and move them here to prevent any further reproduction in that country.
    That makes even Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and the British Opium War look clumsy as far as political cunning goes.
    No women = no babies = wait around a generation or two and just walk into the place unopposed.
    A kinder, gentler, form of ethnic cleansing. 😀

  6. Canadian says:

    lunacy is repeating the same thing over, and expect a different outcome

  7. Special ops plus intel in Yemen, Somalia, and other countries is fine with me. In fact, I agree with Biden’s idea to employ ONLY those assets in Af/Pak, while bringing all the conventional forces home.

  8. Mark says:

    Can the United States GOVERNMENT ever mind it’s own dang business? I’m sick of these parasites creating problems, meddling in every aspect of domestic life and sticking their nose into matters that are none of their dang business.

    In looking at the Declaration of Independence(and 40+ years of watching politics) I’ve come to the conclusion that Government, as an institution, was created by civilized people in the hope that it would advance civilization. I would submit that the experiment has failed. We need to find other means, as civilized people, to arrange our affairs without the abusive, coercive and deadly entity that is Government. The only thing we need to figure out is how to deal with violent sociopaths. Based on my observations, they seem to have found a comfortable home in government.

    Dear God, save us from their homicidal madness.

  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Is there a sane nation left in the world, one that doesn’t continually lie to it’s people and doesn’t continually stick its nose into other nations’ affairs? I am a born and bred American, a 12-year veteran, and very dedicated to my country- or at least the country this is supposed to be. I fear that once this and the next few administrations are through with it, America itself may have ceased to exist in any recognizable form. I’m almost of a mind to leave and just keep the better memories of America with me, instead of watching it die when the rest of the civilized world is fed up and takes a stand. And yes, I pray every day to Allah to bring peace to us all before it’s too late.

  10. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    More wars, yet another evil way of thinking. Humanity needs peace.and nothing but peace will serve all.

  11. Khalid says:





  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Ah, Khalid, the True face of, displaying his visceral love for America. LOL!

  13. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Hey Khalid! You are mostly correct. We continue to shoot ourselves in the foot culturally and politically. However I do believe in God and his Name is not Allah. So go pound sand (no pun intended)!

  14. Jim Evans says:

    What level of activity allows “listening” on countries of interest?

    Surely, there is national security interest in being aware of situations in various countries.

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