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Air strike part of "war on terror"
U.S. warlords attack Somalia

By David Whitehouse | January 19, 2007 | Page 4

A SERIES of U.S. air strikes killed 70 herdsman in southern Somalia in the second week of January.

U.S. officials claimed that up to 10 al-Qaeda "allies" were killed in the attack, though none of their intended targets--three alleged al-Qaeda leaders--were among the victims. However, the British-based aid agency Oxfam said the U.S. strikes hit not al-Qaeda allies, but "large groups of nomads and their animals who had gathered round large fires at night to ward off mosquitoes."

Taking a page from the Israeli strategy of "targeted assassinations" against leaders of the Palestinian resistance, the U.S. targeted the three al-Qaeda leaders, who it blames for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 250 people, mostly Africans.

But the air strikes are closely bound up with the recent Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, carried out with open support from the U.S. The three are alleged to belong to the Islamist militias that fled from the Somali capital of Mogadishu, when Ethiopian tanks and soldiers rolled into the city in the last weeks of 2006.

The retreating militias are attached to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which took control of southern Somalia in June after fending off four months of attacks from a CIA-forged coalition of warlords. The UIC regime was the closest that poverty-stricken Somalia had come to having a central government since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.

Ethiopia's invasion--which press reports say was joined by U.S. Special Operations ground forces--succeeded where the CIA-backed warlord force had previously failed, in installing a "transitional government" friendly to the invaders.

The new "president," Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, promptly endorsed the right of the U.S. to attack Somalis in the name of the "war on terror."

Nevertheless, the attacks drew condemnation from the European Union, the Arab League and close U.S. allies such as South Africa--and even from the foreign minister of Djibouti, a tiny country on the coastal tip of the Horn of Africa, from which the U.S. launched the attacks.

The new Somali government was formed at a 2004 conference held in Nairobi, Kenya, and has no real roots in Mogadishu. Yusuf himself is a military strongman from Somalia's north with longstanding ties to the dictatorship in Ethiopia. After declaring martial law last week, the government shut down Mogadishu's two largest local media outlets and Al Jazeera TV.

The defeat of the UIC means the return of clan-based warlords, who are seen by Somalis as "absolute bastards...illiterate, syphilitic, irrational killers," according to a "Somalia watcher" quoted in the Economist. Some of these "absolute bastards" are already ministers in the transitional government.

And the CIA-aligned warlords who earlier fought the UIC have now offered to "disarm" their militias as long as they are integrated into a new Somali army. This would set up the potential for a new round of civil war in the capital, since most Mogadishu-based subclans are not in the government's favored circle.

The U.S. air strikes were launched from Djibouti's Camp Lemonier, the post-September 11 Pentagon nerve center for U.S. intervention in the Horn of Africa.

In the words of conservative analyst Vance Serchuk, the Ethiopian invasion itself is a product of U.S. "investment" in local proxies for U.S. power. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Serchuk explained that the mission of the 1,500 operatives in Djibouti--housed in "air-conditioned tents, prefab trailers and plywood shacks"--has been to "bulk up" the armed forces of regional allies.

"Although officials at Camp Lemonier insist they are not in the business of recreating the King's African Rifles or other such native levies, the task force's activities fit squarely with what last year's Quadrennial Defense Review described as the 'shifting emphasis' toward the use of 'surrogates' in the war on terror," Serchuk wrote.

The Ethiopian army isn't the only regional recipient of U.S. supplies and training. The Pentagon Joint Task Force, writes Serchuk, "has also been working extensively with the Ugandan army." So far, Ugandan president Yoweri Musveni is the only head of state to offer "peacekeepers" to replace the Ethiopian invaders.

The U.S. had pushed for the creation of an African Union (AU) force to protect the Somali "transitional government" since before the Ethiopian invasion. The United Nations Security Council vote authorizing an AU force served as the green light for the Ethiopian sweep to Mogadishu two weeks later--since the promise of peacekeepers meant that the invaders would not need to become long-term occupiers.

Another U.S. ally, Kenya, joined the coordinated war effort by sealing its Somali border to keep the fleeing courts militias exposed to U.S. and Ethiopian fire.

Regional power politics gave Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi plenty of his own reasons to invade, but his war was part of a bigger plan for regional dominance by the world's biggest warlords--in Washington.

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