Escalation in Somalia Is a Foreign Policy Failure in Progress

U.S. intervention quietly escalates in Somalia.



While the Trump administration has very visibly made and modified plans to reduce U.S. military intervention in Syria and Afghanistan, it has quietly escalated the fight in Somalia. U.S. airstrikes in the North African nation are on the rise, The New York Times reported Sunday, and that higher pace of bombardment has contributed to increased civilian displacement and all the turmoil that comes with it.

This is a foreign policy failure in progress. If the last two decades of missteps in the Middle East and North Africa have demonstrated anything, it is that secretive wars of choice are prone to mission creep and rife with unintended consequences. Rather than expand, U.S. military intervention in Somalia should be shut down before it spirals into another needless generational conflict.

The United States has had some military presence in Somalia for the better part of three decades, and the current campaign began in 2007. But U.S. strikes were few—zero to three per year—until 2015, when former President Barack Obama started an upward trend the Trump team has continued. Last year, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) reported 47 strikes. The first two months of this year put us on track to triple that by December.

Casualties from American strikes are up, too. Yet multiple steps away from accountability and transparency—notably President Trump's 2017 decision to designate Somalia an "area of active hostilities" and his cancellation last week of an annual reporting requirement for U.S. drone strikes—have made independent assessments of this rising death toll difficult. Maybe, as AFRICOM says, every strike target is a militant linked to the terrorist group al-Shabab. Or maybe, as under the Obama administration, all military-age males who are killed are automatically tallied as combatants "unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."

We don't know, and we have no apparent means of finding out, because this is a war fought in the dark. The U.S. intervention in Somalia is entirely a project of the executive branch. It was never authorized by Congress, as the Constitution requires, and Congress shows no sign of bestirring itself to examine the conflict's necessity, value, or execution now. Thus we have a "massive war" proceeding "on autopilot," as Brittany Brown, former acting senior director for African affairs on the Trump administration's National Security Council, told the Times—and it's only getting bigger.

But al-Shabab is hardly a significant threat to U.S. security. Its aims are provincial and its numbers are few. Its total fighting force is estimated at about 6,000, and the Times reports that an official from the State Department puts "the number of hard-core ideologues" as low as 500, a figure matched by the growing number of American boots on the ground in Somalia. Though certainly capable of executing horrific attacks in Mogadishu, al-Shabab cannot threaten vital U.S. interests. The U.S. offensive has not eradicated al-Shabab, nor has it made America meaningfully safer. There is no doubt of al-Shabab's evil, but the value of an American military "solution" is very doubtful indeed.

That makes all the more troubling the suggestion from former U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Stephen Schwartz, who served under this administration and the last, that this war is now escalating simply because it can. "We were geared up for counterterrorism efforts in Somalia, and now there are more resources to do it, so we're doing more of it," Schwartz posited. "It could be there is some well-thought-out strategy behind all of this," he continued, "but I really doubt it." Multiple other former U.S. officials drew the same connection from drawdowns elsewhere in the greater Mideast to intensification of U.S. intervention in Somalia. Washington's addiction to permanent, boundless conflict has dismissed strategy, prudence, and restraint to move straight from winding down one war to prolonging another.

At the start of this year, NBC News seemed to point to a new direction in the Trump administration's Somalia policy. "Not every nasty character out there is a threat to the U.S.," an unnamed official told NBC. "Do we want to do the Somali government's job for it?" The comments fit well with Trump's own critique of America as "the policeman of the world," but his Defense Department promptly quashed any talk of a shift on Somalia, and since then the escalation has continued.

That is a mistake, and this redoubled commitment to endless war should be immediately reversed. U.S. military intervention in Somalia is exacerbating political instability without contributing to the security of the American or Somali people. This is not our fight, and we should stop fighting it.

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  1. Maybe Al shabab is so insignificant because we are hunting them down and killing them and if we left they would not be so insignificant anymore?

    Who wrote this article Fox Butterfield?

    1. It would be nice if evidence of the kind you're suggesting was presented to the American public to support this apparently important secret war.

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    2. No, John, dummy, looks like I have to spell it out for you. They are insignificant because they are stuck in one place and have no way of getting around, because there are no roads in Somalia, because you need a strong central government to have roads and there isn't one in Somalia.

      1. We had roads before we had a "strong central government." They (the terrorists) can certainly get around. That doesn't make it our problem though. We shouldn't be there.

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  2. Pentagon plans to scale back in Somalia, latest sign Trump wants to cut troops abroad

    Hmm... NBC says things are winding down in Somalia. Who should we believe?

    1. I dunno LC, NBC frequently goes out of their way to be Trump's cheerleaders.

      1. 🙂

  3. >>>redoubled commitment to endless war should be immediately reversed

    the redoubled commitment to endless ________ has become status quo

  4. You send us a crackpot Congresswoman, we respond with increased airstrikes.

    Your move, Somalia.

    1. We shoot Ethiopian farmer's goat!

      Now your move, infidel.

      1. We send diplomatic envoy to Ethiopian village to show our respect for the slain goat, and promise to send military advisors to Ethiopia.

  5. Uhh...isn't Somalia essentially the last piracy nation on Earth? Did they suddenly become a stable not-shithole in the last ten years? I'll admit I haven't been paying attention since they raided some ships and ended up with some Russian tanks...

    1. Somaliland, in the north, is working for a secession from the south (where Mogadishu is and al-Shaba'ab operates). Somaliland has resources and more stability along with help from the West as they're not too anti-colonialist.

      I've kinda not been following too closely lately though either.

      1. I appreciate that, Somalia is a country that America has very little interest in beyond keeping the nearby sea lanes clear of pirate rafts. I can think of one way to keep the sea lanes clear, and that's keep them occupied on land with a token force. *shrug* Not saying that's what is happening, just that it would make some sense in context.

        That said, with how much interest China has in Africa and it's resources in particular I personally think that we ignore those nations at our own peril in the future.

        1. The ChiComs have a base in Djibouti which is next to Somaliland on the Gulf of Aden. The US has a base there and the French operate out of it.

          I'm assuming investigators are looking into an al-Shaba'ab connection to the downing of the Ethiopian plane but I'd think the jihadists would take credit for it by now so it probably is an accident.

          1. Kabobs sound good for 'inch.

    2. And just for the record, Reason says that we must accept the refugee's via open borders but then also says we cannot interfere over there to prevent the refugee's from happening. I'm not saying this is a position of reasonable people, but it is a curious mix of ideological positions that sort of results in a no-win scenario for America. And maybe that's just because it's not a game, so there is no winning condition, but why should we just sit on our thumbs while the world burns if we could, you know, put out some of the fire?

      Don't get me wrong, I couldn't give less of a fuck about the not-nation that is Somalia. This is a broader question spurred by this particular case even while it's mostly unrelated to this particular case.

      1. Part of the problem is that our interference results in as many refugee situations as not intervening. Hell, that's the whole neocon foreign policy--bomb their nations and bring in the survivors.

        1. I suppose it depends on what you define as a refugee. I find it to be improbable that action and non-action have the exact same results in foreign interference. That said, just because I think it's improbable doesn't mean it can't happen.

        2. If the goal is to bomb places and bring them in as refugees, then we need to hit Sweden, Switzerland, etc.. them bring in all the tall blonde chicks as refugees.

          I'll even sign up as a host family.

        3. Pretty sure Somalia has been a failed state since the end of the Cold War. Basically, their Communist regime fell without the support of the Soviet Union. So, I find it hard to believe that the US is responsible for how destabilized Somalia is. They seem to like it that way.

  6. Some day there is going to be a man sitting in my present chair who has not been raised in the military services and who will have little understanding Dwight D. Eisenhower

    1. Excellent!

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  7. I keep mixing up Al Shabab w El Kabong.

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