Thousands dead in Somalia, rights group: ‘blowback’ for US

A total of 9,474 civilians have been killed due to violence in the war-torn state of Somalia a human rights group said recently.

The deputy chairman of Mogadishu-based Elman Peace and Human Rights Organization[1]  added that more than 830 people have died since June due to daily fighting, compounding a dreadful humanitarian crisis that Doctors Without Borders has called the "worst on the continent[2] ."

In June on this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the Ethiopian government of "war crimes and crimes against humanity" in the Ogaden region in the Horn of Africa. 

Violence in the area escalated after Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) forces attacked a Chinese run oil installation killing more than 70 Ethiopian civilians, including 9 Chinese workers in April 2007.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia launched a "brutal" response that "deliberately and repeatedly attacked civilian populations," the HRW report stated, saying their "crimes are being committed with total impunity, on the thinnest of pretexts."

The ONLF is said to have conducted summary executions of Chinese and Ethiopian civilians while the Ethiopian forces have displaced "entire communities," burned down dozens of villages and executed more than 150 individuals, many in "demonstration killings," with hundreds more detained and tortured.[3] 

The US has also been involved, alleged to have carried out "rendition" of more than a hundred people who were detained in Kenya after escaping the violence from Somalia.  They were then secretly taking to Ethiopia, a country "accused of routinely torturing political prisoners," an Independent [4] investigation revealed.

HRW said the Ethiopian response to the rebel group has been to expressly target civilians in a form of collective punishment, illegal under international law.

The report noted that the U.S. and UK—both providing almost $2 billion in aid yearly to the Ethiopian government— have not shown "even mild public concern, much less criticism," of the Ethiopian response.

"These widespread and systematic atrocities amount to crimes against humanity. Yet Ethiopia’s major donors, Washington, London and Brussels, seem to be maintaining a conspiracy of silence around the crimes," Georgette Gagnon from HRW said in a press release.

HRW urged the U.S. to comply with the "Leahy law[5] ," which prohibits military aid to human rights abusers.

Washington considers Ethiopia a major partner in the "war on terror," a theme Zenawi embraces as he labels the ONLF and other groups alleged to be backed by rival Eritrea as terrorists, seemingly to attract support from the US, the report said.

ENOUGH[6] , a group launched by the International Crisis Group and the Center for American Progress issued a report in September concluding that current US policies in the horn of Africa are likely to bring "blowback" to US interests.

"[US policies] have generated a high level of anti-Americanism and are contributing to radicalisation of the population," the report concluded, as Jim Lobe wrote in Inter Press Service.[7] 

Regional analysts warned that the Western-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia would be disastrous, but the situation now "exceeds the worst-case scenarios," professor Ken Menkhaus, the author of the report wrote.

In what ultimately turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, Menkhaus describes how the US tried uniting local clan militias in a military attempt to capture a small group of suspected al-Qaeda affiliates thought to be harbored by a jihadi militia known as the shabaab. 

The CIA was on the ground handing out briefcases of cash to the warlords who once attacked US forces during the "Black Hawk down" incident[8] , urging them to fight the ICU.

Nevertheless, US- backed warlords were defeated within months paving the way for the Islamic Courts Union, which — despite harsh authoritarian rule — achieved "impressive" levels of security and restoration of basic services, winning widespread support from the Somali citizenry.

Menkhaus wrote that the US took "good-faith measures" to encourage negotiations between the ICU and Transitional Federal Government (TFG), viewed by many critics as an Ethiopian puppet.  He went on further to say that factions within the ICU provoked the Ethiopians.

But journalist Steve Bloomfield of the Independent [9] asserted that "The US and Ethiopia encouraged the TFG, led by a former warlord, Abdullahi Yusuf, not to negotiate" with the ICU.

Months after the US-backed plans failed, the US’s top Africa diplomat flew to Somalia and told the interim president Abdullahi Yusuf that the U.S. would help him "sweep out the Islamists."

Despite warnings from then CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid to Ethiopia’s PM Zenawi that invading and occupying Somalia would turn it in to "Ethiopia’s Iraq," the invasion commenced on Christmas Day 2006.

The US backed the Ethiopian invasion directly with satellite intelligence and covert military assistance despite UN Security Council resolution 1725—[10] passed just days prior on Dec 6 – that called all involved parties to "refrain from action that could provoke or perpetuate violence and violations of human rights, contribute to unnecessary tension and mistrust, endanger the ceasefire and political process, or further damage the humanitarian situation."

Abizaid’s and other analysts’ predictions turned out to be true and a fierce insurgency developed composed of shabaab members, warlords, and other armed groups to resist the invasion.

In May of this year, a US airstrike killed Hashi Aden Ayro, the leader of Shabaab movement.  But more than a dozen civilians nearby were killed in the attack as well.

Anger and frustration at the Ethiopian occupation, including US support, runs deep and the Ayro assassination will do little to quell the insurgency, Somalia expert Ahmed Samatar said back in a May McClatchy [11] report.

"I have little doubt that the resistance will continue until there is a full withdrawal of Ethiopian troops out of Somalia and a new legitimate and competent national government is established," he added.

Few in Washington, including both presidential candidates had even mentioned Somalia and US military intervention there.  Even fewer fundamentally challenge the US president’s authority to carry out military actions, including assassination attempts against foreign nationals.

Veteran Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung [12] commented that the Democratic head of the Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin, "seemed not to have a problem with the fact of the attack."

Humanitarian aid workers have been targeted by the insurgency as a direct response to the missile strike on Ayro.  Before the missile strike, shabaab was only directing its attacks against the European and TFG forces but immediately after, it declared open hostility to all Western backed entities, compounding the humanitarian crisis, Menkhaus wrote.

More than 3.7 million people in Somalia are in dire need of humanitarian aid, the UN concluded last month. 

"Everyone – except Pentagon planners, it seems – knew that Somalia had never proved fertile of territory for Saudi-style radical Islam," the Sunday Times of London [13] reported.  "However, indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas by Ethiopia, Somalia’s historic enemy, with huge casualties, put an end to that."

The average Somali the civilian is now caught in a vicious bind between the insurgents and TFG and Ethiopian forces human rights groups say.  But most are angry at the TFG, Ethiopia, and the US according to the ENOUGH report.

Although US involvement in the region is complex, the widespread, and in many ways justified belief that the Ethiopian invasion was orchestrated by the US has made the area a "much more dangerous place for the United States, the West, and Ethiopia itself," the report concluded.










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