By George Dean AttisSpecial to CSMS MagazineWith some aplomb, the White House-Pentagon axis has managed to turn Somalia into the new Afghanistan, in more ways than one and just in time for Bush’s announcement of his escalation-tainted “new way forward”. The Pentagon maintained it had “credible” intelligence before it decided to strike alleged al-Qaeda-infested villages in southern Somalia. This is highly suspect.The intelligence was provided by unsavory, corrupt Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi – who came up with the clever plot of concocting a fictitious jihad conducted by “neo-Taliban” in Somalia and selling it handsomely to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon. He’s now posing as a prime US ally in the “war on terror”, just as Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov did in the autumn of 2001.Zenawi’s US-trained Ethiopian troops, the ones who invaded Somalia, are infested with CIA operatives and Special Forces – all of them flown in from the strategic US-controlled (since September 11, 2003) Camp Le Monier in Djibouti.Arab media are having a field day reporting that Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf, a reconverted warlord “elected” by fellow warlords (all armed by the US) and then legitimized by the United Nations, told African journalists in Mogadishu that the US had the right to bomb “anywhere in the world”. According to the Kenyan newspaper The Daily Nation, this new US campaign of targeted assassinations has in fact killed scores of civilians.But with the help of Ethiopia’s dictatorship – whose soldiers it trained – Washington is being rewarded with one more client regime, and a crucial foothold in the Horn of Africa, right on the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, very close to the Red Sea and literally next door to Yemen and Saudi Arabia.Or is it that simple? Somalia, 75 percent pastoral with six major clans and hundreds of sub-clans, is now in civil-war mode. Millions of Somalis live in neighboring Kenya, and support the deposed, moderate Islamic Union Courts. Kenya will be convulsed. Blowback will be inevitable – and bloody. “Long war” marketers and profiteers could not but rejoice.Waging the proxy war on behalf of the United StatesIt is without a doubt that Ethiopia is waging a proxy war on behalf of the United States. On December 26, US State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus described Ethiopia’s illegal attack as a response to “aggression” by Islamists and an attempt to stem the flow of outside arms shipments to them. Washington was also concerned about reports that the Islamists were using child soldiers and abusing Ethiopian prisoners of war, she added.Ethiopia could not have carried out such an extensive assault without a green light from the Bush administration. The United States has a military base in nearby Djibouti and is able to monitor troop movements in the area by satellite. It would have known about the build-up of Ethiopian forces. The former US State Department official John Pendergast admitted, “We are now giving a yellow-slash-green light to Ethiopia’s policy of containment by intervention.”Not only is the Ethiopian invasion an act of aggression, it is also an act of extreme recklessness. A conflict in Somalia has the potential to involve the whole region and to extend even beyond the Horn of Africa.The United Islamic Courts (UIC) took control of Somalia earlier this year after they defeated US-backed clan warlords. Until the current Ethiopian offensive, most of the country was in UIC hands with the exception of Baidoa, the base of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The TFG was set up by the United Nations in 2004 and was heavily backed by the US and Britain, but it has little support in Somalia and never succeeded in extending its authority beyond Baidoa. It has relied on the support of Ethiopian troops.Fighting between UIC forces and Ethiopian troops broke out around Baidoa on December 19. The following day the BBC reported that Ethiopian tanks were advancing into Somalia. On December 25, Ethiopian air strikes began and the UIC forces were reported to be in retreat.Washington’s proxy war against the UIC is bound up with the US debacle in Iraq and the losses suffered by the Republicans in the November elections in the US as a result of mass antiwar sentiment. Dismissing all calls for a change in policy in Iraq itself, the Bush administration has responded by preparing to step up its military offensive in that country. At the same time, it has escalated its sabre-rattling against Iran.Now it has encouraged Ethiopia to launch an invasion against what it regards as a hostile Islamist force in the strategically vital Horn of Africa. Many experts believe that the bombing of an Al Qaeda cell last week by the United States was designed to send a message to Arabia that the US will strike anywhere it deems dangerous to its geo-strategic influence. The US has consistently opposed European calls to establish a working relationship with the UIC, denouncing it as a terrorist front. One of the UIC’s leading figures, Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, is on the US list of wanted terrorists. Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer claims that the UIC is controlled by an East African Al Qaeda cell with links to the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa.Washington is making it clear that it will not be satisfied with anything less than the installation of a client regime in Somalia.The US and other imperialist powers such as France and Italy are politically responsible for the emergence of the UIC and its Islamic fundamentalist ideology in this impoverished country. Colonialism first created a patchwork of states in the Horn of Africa as elsewhere on the continent, which it was able to control and exploit. It then prepared the way for a series of internecine conflicts in the period after independence, when the region became a focus of Cold War struggles between the US and the Soviet Union for regional influence.Washington and Moscow poured arms into the Horn of Africa as they struggled to gain control of the strategic region, which overlooks the sea lanes used for Middle Eastern oil shipments.Somalia was a Soviet ally until the “Derg” military junta under Mengistu Haile Mariam overthrew Ethiopian Emperor Hailie Selassie in 1974 and the Soviet Union shifted its support to the new Ethiopian regime. The US government took the opportunity to form an alliance with Somalia, arming the regime there with millions of dollars worth of sophisticated weaponry.The US supported the dictator Siad Barre despite his pretensions to “scientific socialism.” During the late 1970s and 1980s, Somalia became the largest recipient of US aid in Africa. Most of this money went to military projects.Under US patronage, Siad Barre created the conditions of famine and the militarization of society that led to the anarchy and civil war of the last decade and a half. He fomented the clan rivalries that have subsequently torn the country apart.The UIC was able to come to power this year with its anti-democratic policy of imposing sharia religious law because the Somali population, in particular its business interests, were weary of the rival warlords’ bloody battles for precedence.When Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, a unit of US Marines was diverted from the Gulf to evacuate the US embassy. A year later, the US returned in force under the pretext of a humanitarian operation. The reality was that the 30,000 combat troops, attack helicopters and warships deployed by the senior George Bush in Operation Restore Hope were sent to regain control of Somalia and consolidate the Middle Eastern gains that the US had made in the Gulf War of 1991.The American intervention in Somalia was continued under President Clinton, but the US was forced to withdraw ignominiously in 1993 when two Black Hawk helicopters were brought down and 19 soldiers were killed in the capital Mogadishu. Since then, the significance of Somalia has increased rather than diminished, as the Horn of Africa has been identified as the location of important mineral resources, including oil.Preparations for the present war began this summer when the UIC took control of Mogadishu. As the UIC rapidly extended its control over the rest of the country, the US began to work covertly through private military contractors to re-establish itself in Somalia. Emails leaked to the Observer and Africa Confidential in June this year revealed that Select Armor, ATS Worldwide and Special Associated Services—private mercenary corporations—had met with the CIA to discuss operations in Somalia. They were assisting Ethiopian forces in the defense of the TFG in Baidoa.One email claimed to have United Nations agencies “on-side.” UN personnel in Nairobi are said to have been told that the mercenary operation had full US backing. The UN certainly did not raise any objections to either Ethiopia’s or the mercenaries’ presence in Somalia, despite the fact that this intervention was in breach of a UN arms embargo. Its silence is evidence of its complicity in the war that is now unfolding.The latest phase of the operation was likely discussed during the visit earlier this month of General John P. Abizaid, commander of the US Central Command (Centcom), to Ethiopia. According to the New York Times, Zenawi assured Abizaid that Ethiopia could cripple the Islamist forces “in one to two weeks.”Abizaid was well aware that an Ethiopian invasion would “create a humanitarian crisis across the Horn of Africa” according to Centcom officials. US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Frazer has also admitted, “If this thing goes to a military fight, it’s a bloodbath.”UNICEF estimates that 8 million people, including 1.6 million children, are on the brink of starvation in the Horn of Africa. The area has been hit by severe drought and flooding. Aid agencies are already struggling to cope with half a million displaced people. Crops have failed and livestock has died. Malnutrition levels in southern Somalia are said to be acute, with one-fifth of children malnourished. Only a tiny proportion of those children are getting emergency food. The war can only make things much worse.
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