Forget about all that stuff about Ethiopia having a ‘tacit’ o.k. from Washington to invade Somalia. The decision was made at the White House and the attack had military support from the Pentagon. The governments are too much in sync and the Ethiopians too dependent on the U.S. to think otherwise.
And, it didn’t just suddenly happen. Ethiopian troops, trained and equipped by the U.S. began infiltrating into Somali territory last summer as part of a plan that began to evolve the previous June when the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) took control of the government. In November, the head of the U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid (until last week he ran the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq) was in Addis Ababa. After that, Ghanaian journalist Cameron Duodu has written, Ethiopia ‘moved from proving the Somali government with ‘military advice’ to open armed intervention.’
And not without help. U.S Supplied satellite surveillance data aided in the bombardment of the Somali capital, Mogadishu and pinpointing the location of UIC forces resulting, in the words of New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman, in ‘a string of back-to- back military loses in which more than 1,000 fighters, mostly teenage boys, were quickly mowed down by the better-trained and equipped Ethiopian-backed forces.’
As with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the immediate question is why was this proxy attack undertaken, in clear violation of international law and the UN Charter? And again, there is the official line, the excuse and the underlying impetus. The official line from Addis Ababa is that it was a defensive act in the face of a threat of attack from Somalia. There’s nothing to support the claim and a lot of evidence to the contrary. As far as the Bush Administration is concerned, it was a chance to strike back at ‘Islamists’ as part of the on-going ‘war on terror.’ For progressive observers in the region and much of the media outside the U.S., the conflict smells of petroleum.
‘As with Iraq in 2003, the United States has cast this as a war to curtail terrorism, but its real goal is to obtain a direct foothold in a highly strategic region by establishing a client regime there.,’ wrote Salim Lone, spokesperson for the United Nation mission in Iraq in 2003, and now a columnist for The Daily Nation in Kenya. ‘The Horn of Africa is newly oil-rich, and lies just miles from Saudi Arabia, overlooking the daily passage of large numbers of oil tankers and warships through the Red Sea.’
In a television interview broadcast on the day of the full-fledged Ethiopian assault, Marine General James Jones (who ironically, like Abizaid, recently lost his position), then-Nato’s military commander and head of the US military’s European army, expressed his concern that the size of the U.S. army in Europe had ‘perhaps gone too low.’ Jones went on to tell the CSpan interviewer the US needed troops in Europe partly so that they could be quickly deployed in trouble-spots in Africa and elsewhere.
‘I think the emergence of Africa as a strategic reality is inevitable and we’re going to need forward-based troops, special operations, marines, soldiers, airmen and sailors to be in the right proportion,’ said Jones.
‘Pentagon to train sharper eye on Africa,’ read the headline over a January 5 report by Richard Whittle in the Christian Science Monitor. ‘Strife, oil, and Al Qaeda are leading the US to create a new Africa Command.’
‘Africa, long beset by war, famine, disease, and ethnic tensions, has generally taken a backseat in Pentagon planning – but US officials say that is about to change,’ wrote Whittle, who went on to report that one of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s last acts before being dismissed from that position was to convince President Bush to create a new Africa military Africa command, something the White House is expected to announce later this year. The creation of the new body, he quoted one expert as saying, reflects the Administration concern about ‘Al Qaeda’s known presence in Africa,’ China’s developing relations with the continent with regards to oil supplies and the fact that ‘Islamists took over Somalia last June and ruled until this week, when Ethiopian troops drove them out of power.’
Currently, the US gets about 10 percent of its oil from Africa, but, the Monitor story said but ‘some experts say it may need to rely on the continent for as much as 25 percent by 2010.’ Reportedly, nearly two-thirds of Somalia‘s oil fields were allocated to the U.S. oil companies Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips before Somalia‘s pro-U.S. President Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in January, 1991.
Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman, said the division for African military operations “causes some difficulty in trying to … execute a more streamlined and comprehensive strategy when it comes to Africa.” According to the plan, the Central Command will retain responsibility for the Horn of Africa for about 18 months while the Africa Command gets set up. The Pentagon’s present Horn of Africa joint task force, headquartered in Djibouti, includes about 1,500 troops.
African countries won’t see much difference in the US military presence on the ground under the new command, Herman Cohen, assistant secretary of State for African affairs under the first President Bush, is quoted as saying. “They’re already getting a lot of attention from the US military.’ The Defense Intelligence Agency “has built up its offices throughout Africa in US embassies. Right after the cold war, they reduced a lot, but they’ve built back up.”
“When the Cold War ended, so too did the interest of the USA in Africa…for a while. Particularly following September 11, 2001, the interest of the Bush administration in Africa increased several fold,’ says Bill Fletcher, Jr., visiting professor at Brooklyn College-CUNY, former president of TransAfrica Forum. ‘Their interest was, first, in direct relationship to the amount of oil in the ground. Second, it was in relationship to a country’s attitude toward the so- called “war against terrorism.” Irrespective of the character of a regime, if they were prepared to provide the USA with oil and/or support the war against terrorism, the USA would turn a blind eye toward any practices going on.’
“The second piece of this puzzle, however, is that the new interest in Africa was accompanied by a new military approach toward Africa,’ says Fletcher. ‘This included both the development of the so-called Trans Sahel project, which supposedly concerns training countries to fight terrorism, as well as the deployment of military bases and personnel to Africa. Specifically, and beginning around the time of the initiation of the Iraq war, US military planners began discussing relocating US forces from Europe into Africa, and specifically into the Gulf of Guinea region, a region rich in oil reserves.
“It is clear, once again, that in all of this, the character of any regime is secondary to the regime’s compliance with the interests of the Bush administration and their economic/strategic priorities. The net effect of this could be the introduction of US military personnel into extremely complicated internal struggles not only in the Gulf of Guinea region, but in other locations, e.g., Somalia, allegedly in the interest of fighting terrorism and protecting strategic oil reserves.”
Describing the Trans Sahel project, which covers a swath of North Africa, Foreign Policy in Focus commentator Conn Hallinan wrote recently, ‘The Bush Administration claims the target of this program, called the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative is the growing presence of al-Qaeda influenced organizations in the region. Critics, however, charge that the enterprise has more to do with oil than with Osama bin Laden, and that stepped up military aid to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia will most likely end up being used against internal opposition groups in those countries, not ‘terrorists’ hiding out in the desert.’
An apt example of how the charge of terrorism becomes cover for suppression of local democratic or leftist dissent is Nigeria. A major focus of U.S. oil interest is in that country and the Gulf of Guinea region. There, activists reflecting popular demand for retaining more oil revenues for local development and an end to environmental chaos, have been labeled ‘terrorist’ and are being brutally suppressed by a U.S. trained and equipped military.
Southern Africa scholar George Wright observes that the development of military ties to government and ‘rebel’ groups in Africa, in pursuit of U.S. geo-strategic objectives, is long standing but has accelerating over recent years. Between 1990 and 2000, military arrangements were concluded between governments or opposition groups in 39 countries on the continent. These involved weapons supplies, military training, shared intelligence and surveillance. The aim, he says, has always been to secure neo-colonial relations with African countries. However, since 9/11, Wright says, the process has been accelerated and taken on an increasingly militarist character ‘under the guise of fighting terrorism.’
Fighting proxy war is credible as long as there is a chance of holding sway but history has repeatedly demonstrated when that doesn’t work out, the end is often direct involvement. That explains why the 2007 U.S. military sets funding for Special Forces to increase by 15 percent. According to the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review, these Special Forces ‘will have the capacity to operate in dozens of countries simultaneously – relying on a combination of direct (visible) and indirect (clandestine) approaches.’
The Ethiopian government has said it does not have the resources for an extended stay in Somalia even though the projection is that it will take many months to ‘stabilize’ the situation in the invaded country. As of this writing, the Bush Administration was having difficulty raising troops from nearby cooperative states to take over the job. Only Uganda seemed a sure bet. Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Africa, Ms Jendayi Frazer, told journalists: “Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni promised U.S. President George Bush in a recent phone call that he could supply between 1,000-2,000 troops to protect Somalia‘s transitional government and train its troops. We hope to have the Ugandans deployed before the end of January.’
Shortly after the invasion, Frazer told reporters there had been no request for U.S. troops or military assistance so far, but she did not rule out that it could be requested and supplied later if necessary. Later came quickly. On Sunday, U.S. AC-130 gunships began bombarding sites within Somalia and Hawkeye reconnaissance planes took to the air pinpointing locations for attacks by jet aircraft. Although the announced purpose of the bombing was alleged al-Qaeda personnel, media reports indicated the target were ‘Islamic fighters’, meaning troops of the UIC government. “The US has sided with one Somali faction against another, this could be the beginning of a new civil war … I fear once again they have gone for a quick fix based on false information, one ‘highly respected regional analyst’ told the Times of London. ‘If they pull it off, however, it could be a turning point. The stakes are very high indeed, now. I fear they are repeating the mistakes of the past, not only in Somalia but in Afghanistan and Iraq and will end up creating a new insurgency which could destabilize this entire region.’
BC Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.