Somalia, US and Al-Qaida

After weeks of increasing speculation about an imminent US offensive against Somalia, it remains unclear why Washington thinks this volatile, war-torn country is a haven for Al-Qaida terrorists..

After weeks of increasing speculation about an imminent US offensive against Somalia, it remains unclear why Washington thinks this volatile, war-torn country is a haven for Al-Qaida terrorists. US intelligence is thought by a number of regional experts to be still thin, especially since no US agents of any kind are believed to have visited Somalia in the interval between the disastrous 1992-5 peacekeeping mission and the September 11th attacks. Added to this are doubts regarding the integrity of key US intelligence sources in the region.

Of particular concern are the various parties, both inside and outside Somalia, that the US appears to be using as informants, many of which have their own dubious agendas. Glenn Warren, political officer at the US embassy in neighboring Kenya, was quoted by Somalian officials as saying Washington welcomed “anyone willing to help in the war on terrorism”. With a welcome so all-embracing as that, there has certainly been no shortage of would-be allies. The governments of Kenya and Ethiopia, not to mention numerous Somali warlords opposed to the current peace process, have been falling over themselves to lend support.

Take warlord Hussein Aidid ­ a former US Marine and now senior member of the Somali Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC), a coalition of warlords who oppose the ruling Transitional National Government (TNG). Mr. Aidid might seem an unlikely ally considering that it was his current militia which, under the rule of his late father General Mohammed Farah Aidid, brought an end to the 1993 US peacekeeping mission by killing eighteen Army rangers and dragging their mutilated bodies through the streets of Mogadishu. Nevertheless, Hussein Aidid has been in frequent talks with US agents and was apparently grilled about the operations of Al-Itihad ­ the Somali Islamic group the US says is affiliated to Bin Laden’s network.

Aidid is the most outspoken of all warlords in accusations that Somalia’s ruling TNG are harboring terrorists. “Al-Qaida and Al-Itihad have got three major bases around Mogadishu alone”, he told a press conference in Ethiopia on the Friday before New Year. Yet several diplomats have warned that Aidid is using the war on terror to expand his own lucrative fiefdom, hoping his own army might be selected as a proxy by the US.

Another warlord reported to be in talks with US officials is Muse Sudi Yalahow ­ a Somali faction leader who, like Aidid, has consistently boycotted peace talks. Yalahow has even been known to launch attacks on the prominent members of his own subclan for signing truces with the government.

Similar concerns have been raised about Ethiopia’s interests. A country which has been involved in border hostilities with Somalia since 1964, Ethiopia has always strongly opposed the pan-Somalian Islamist movement represented by the TNG, preferring to back regional separatist factions fighting for independence in the Northern provinces. The links between Al-Qaida and Al-Itihad have been taken entirely on the strength of Ethiopian intelligence, even though the only known terrorist act of Al-Itihad was a bombing in the Ethiopian capital in 1996.

Of all, perhaps the least suspect player is Kenya ­ a country with fewer historical grievances than Ethiopia and a strong interest in promoting stability in the region. Kenyan President Arap Moi has already invested considerable time in Somali peace talks. Nevertheless, should the US decide to use Kenyan bases to attack Somalia, Mr. Moi stands to do extremely well out of the negotiations. It is perhaps for this reason that his avowals of solidarity with President Bush have thus far been greeted with deep suspicion by Kenyans.

Author: Tim Cocks

News Service: Several Somali newspapers, Reuters, Times of India