American Foreign Policy Has Failed in the Horn of Africa

Al Shabab continue to wreak havoc despite U.S. policy since 9/11

On Saturday, militants stormed a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, starting a standoff that lasted four days and, according to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, killed 61 civilians and six members of Kenya’s security forces. According to the Kenya Red Cross more than 50 people are missing. The Somali Islamist group Al Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was a response to Kenya’s participation in a military mission in Somalia. What has been unfortunately overlooked in the wake of the attack in Nairobi is the extent to which the U.S. has been a part of the operations against Al Shabab in Somalia, too.

Almost 20 years ago, 18 Americans were killed in what became known as the Battle of Mogadishu, a failed attempt to capture the warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. The incident occurred only months into Bill Clinton’s presidency, and it contributed to the Clinton administration’s hesitancy to get involved in Rwanda once the genocide there began. Yet the U.S. continues to be actively involved in Somali affairs. In 2007, for example, Washington conducted secretive airstrikes in Somalia as part of the Ethiopian-led invasion. And in August 2011, The Nation's Jeremy Scahill reported on CIA sites in Somalia, including the prison beneath the headquarters of Somalia’s National Security Agency, where American personnel interrogated suspected members of Al Shabab and others with alleged links to the group. According to Scahill, the U.S. pays the salaries of Somali intelligence officials at the prison.

The U.S. does not merely wield its influence in Somalia from the ground. From a base in nearby Djibouti, the Obama administration continues to wage its drone war in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Wired reports that the Djibouti base has also been the launching pad for Special Forces operations in the region. The U.S. has other bases in the area too, including spots in Ethiopia, Kenya, and, yes, Somalia. According to Omar Jamal, a diplomat working for the U.N. mission in Somalia, those who help the Somali government in its fight against Al Shabab "are given a license to completely ignore any local or international law."

In September 2012 American trained-Kenyan troops launched a raid on the port town of Kismayo, an Al Shabab stronghold. The BBC's Martin Plaut reports that residents saw American and European soldiers lead the attack, though a Kenyan military spokesman and U.S. Africa Command both denied that the U.S. was directly involved in the operation. There are also credible reports that U.S. drones have killed two people in the country.

Yet despite having been involved in counterterrorism efforts in Somalia from both the air and the ground, the U.S. has failed to stop Al Shabab activities within Somalia and abroad, from a 2010 attack in the Ugandan capital of Kampala to the recent tragic mass killing in Nairobi.

Last October Johnnie Carson, America's assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said that "Somalia is a good news story for the region, for the international community, but most especially for the people of Somalia itself." The events in Nairobi are the latest example of how wrong Carson was.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Look Feeney I know you're dishonest and a joke you don't need to prove it with this shitty article.

    'An attack occurred, therefore droning the attackers was a failure'. -Feeney grasping for straws.

  • Erik Jay||

    Apparently you read the version with the invisible pixels. I only got the version with black-on-white type myself. Thanks for filling in the blanks... but you might want to fill in the one between your ears while you're at it, or at least explain what you mean intelligibly. Since I haven't followed your junior high school feud with this writer, I need some clarity here. I suppose I could have been more succinct with a simple "WTF?" -- but I had time to type a bit more.

  • Cytotoxic||

    What's with all these pissy full-name posters who I've never heard of before? They're all over the place and they're stupid.

  • bassjoe||

    Eh, not sure how an attack by about a half dozen militants evidences a "failure" of the policy. A small number of determined individuals is extremely tough to detect and/or destroy (as events in America itself amply demonstrate). Being able to launch successful attacks involving small numbers of people only once every couple years may, arguably, be seen as a success of the policy.

    Of course, we don't know the whole story here, yet. By what means did the militants organize themselves? Where did they receive funding? How long was this operation in the planning stages? If it was discovered that emails/texts/whatever are sitting in an NSA database that was inundated with "metadata" of Americans' emails, multiple heads should roll, starting at the top. Seriously.

  • angus||

    America has no idea where Al Qaeda gets its financing from.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Al-Shabab definitely gets assistance from Eritrea.

  • bassjoe||

    I read a story once about this years ago.

    I do think we know: rich fundamentalist Saudis who use an ancient Islamic payments system (I forget its name) that operates completely outside of the modern financial system. This system relies 100% on individuals as completely-trusted intermediaries and they deal only in cash. The rich guy literally goes down the street, gives $1,000,000 to a trusted intermediary, that intermediary calls up a similarly-trusted intermediary in Pakistan... and, voila, al Qaeda has $1,000,000. (Don't ask me how the settlement happens across thousands of miles; that part was not very well-explained, from what I remember.)

    All of those fancy AML laws we have in place cannot effectively prevent al Qaeda's funding. Their money does not go through banks, central reserves or ever touches the SWIFT wire system. When they need to make their money clean, they send some low-level guy with a few hundred bucks to open a bank account.

  • Jake345||

    trying to find the argument in the article... found the facile concluding paragraph, but not the argument

  • Robert||

    All the El Kabong biz aside, what struck me most from the video on scene was how when you're inside a shopping mall, you could be anywhere in the world and not know where.

  • Robert||

    (and therefore not know whether the video was real)

  • amyebrinton||

    my buddy's half-sister makes ,$77, every hour on the computer. She has been unemployed for 8 months but last month her income was ,$21889, just working on the computer for a few hours. Check Out Your URL....

    http://www.Works23.com

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement