Obama’s Other Secret War…in Somalia

John Glaser, July 23, 2013


The Obama administration is violating international law and United Nations resolutions in conducting its largely secret war in Somalia.

At Foreign Policy, Colum Lynch writes that, “the Obama administration earlier this year expanded its secret war in Somalia, stepping up assistance for federal and regional Somali intelligence agencies that are allied against the country’s Islamist insurgency” in “a move that’s not only violating the terms of an international arms embargo,” but may also be emboldening al-Shabab.

This is not exactly news. In a number of articles in 2011, The Nation‘s Jeremy Scahill uncovered Obama’s secret war, which included secret prisons run by CIA proxies, harsh interrogations, and directing funding and training of unscrupulous militants, many of whom were former (and current?) warlords. The “counter-terrorism” effort in Somalia also included “targeted strikes by U.S. Special Operations forces, drone attacks and expanded surveillance operations.

Scahill noted “U.S. policy on Somalia [since “Black Hawk Down”] has been marked by neglect, miscalculation and failed attempts to use warlords to build indigenous counterterrorism capacity, many of which have backfired dramatically.”

At times, largely because of abuses committed by Somali militias the CIA has supported, U.S. policy has strengthened the hand of the very groups it purports to oppose and inadvertently aided the rise of militant groups, including the Shabab. Many Somalis viewed the Islamic movement known as the Islamic Courts Union, which defeated the CIA’s warlords in Mogadishu in 2006, as a stabilizing, albeit ruthless, force. The ICU was dismantled in a US-backed Ethiopian invasion in 2007. Over the years, a series of weak Somali administrations have been recognized by the United States and other powers as Somalia’s legitimate government. Ironically, its current president is a former leader of the ICU.

Emphasis mine. The fact that U.S. policy in the past has demonstrably strengthened the supposed militant threat is incredibly important, especially in today’s scenario where we are repeating those same mistakes.

Al-Shabab “poses no direct threat to the security of the United States,” Malou Innocent, Foreign Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute wrote last year. “However, exaggerated claims about the specter of al Qaeda could produce policy decisions that exacerbate a localized, regional problem into a global one.”

Even the Obama administration has quietly acknowledged the fact that military involvement in Somalia may create more problems than it solves, with one administration official telling the Washington Post back in 2011 there is a “concern that a broader campaign could turn al-Shabab from a regional menace into an adversary determined to carry out attacks on U.S. soil.”

Al-Shabab was nothing until the U.S. decided to flood Somalia with drones, special operations forces, proxy warriors and CIA foot soldiers. Then al-Qaeda’s number 1, Ayman al-Zawahiri, saw the attention they were paid and decided to formally welcome them into the al-Qaeda club. A sign of weak desperation no doubt, but also a sign of getting exactly the opposite set of consequences intended.

But the reality blowback still fails to render the appropriate consideration in the halls of power in Washington. Beyond the backwards strategy in Somalia, the ongoing secret war there should – but doesn’t – bring up other questions about the ability of President Obama to wage covert wars without the consent of the people or Congress and to knowingly flout international law with impunity.

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