US Sponsored Bombing of Somalia: The Hidden War
Strategic interests behind US-Ethiopian alliance
by Carl Bloice
Global Research, May 14, 2007
Carl Bloice elucidates the failure or unwillingness of the Western media to
accurately report the invasion and occupation of Somalia by a US backed
Ethiopian government. He asserts that behind the US-Ethiopian political alliance
lies a strategic move to secure positioning in this oil region.
The US bombing of Somalia took place while the
World Social Forum was underway in Kenya, three days before a large anti-war
action in Washington on 27 January 2007.
Nunu Kidane, network coordinator for Priority Africa Network (PAN), was present
in Nairobi. After returning home, she asked: how 'to explain the silence of the
US peace movement on Somalia?'
Writing in the San Francisco community newspaper Bay View, Kidane suggested one
valid reason: 'Perhaps US-based organizations don't have the proper analytical
framework to understand the significance of the Horn of Africa region. Perhaps
it is because Somalia is largely seen as a country with no government and in
perpetual chaos; with "fundamental Islamic" forces, not deserving of defense
against the military attacks by US in search of "terrorists".'
To that it may be added the role of the major US media in the lead up to the
invasion and the suffering now taking place in the Horn of Africa.
'The carnage and suffering in Somalia may be the worst in more than a decade -
but you'd hardly know it from your nightly news', wrote Andrew Cawthorne for
Reuters from Nairobi last week.
Amy Goodman's Democracy Now recently examined the coverage of ABC, NBC and CBS
on Somalia in the evening newscasts since the invasion.
ABC and NBC had not mentioned the war at all. CBS mentioned the war once,
dedicating three whole sentences to it. Despite the fact that there have been
more casualties in this war than in the recent fighting in Lebanon.
While the major US print media have not completely ignored the conflict, their
reporting is even more shallow than prior to the invasion of Iraq.
As recently as last week, Reuters was still maintaining that Ethiopian troops
had invaded its neighbour with the 'tacit' support of the United States.
At least The New York Times has taken to describing it as 'covert American
support'. Both characterisations obscure the truth.
The attack on Somalia was pre-planned. It would never have taken place without
the approval of the White House.
We now know that the Bush administration gave the Ethiopian government the go
ahead to ignore its own imposed ban on weapons purchases from North Korea, in
order to gear up for the battle ahead. US military forces took part in the
'The US political and military alliance with Ethiopia - which openly violated
international law in its aggression towards Somalia, is destabilizing the Horn
region and begins a new shift in the way the US plans to have permanent and
active military presence in Africa', wrote Kadane.
Planning for the invasion actually began last summer when the Union of Islamic
Courts (UIC) took control of the Somali government.
The US-Ethiopian version of shock and awe was to swiftly bring about the desired
regime change, installing the Washington-favoured, government-in-exile of
President Abdullahi Yusuf.
Only a few days after their troops entered the country, Ethiopian officials said
their forces lacked the resources to stay in Somalia, and that they would be
At one point, the Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi declared - Bush-like -
that the invaders' mission had been successfully accomplished and that
two-thirds of his troops were returning home.
That turned out not to be true. Three months later, the Ethiopians are still in
Somalia committing what numerous observers are calling horrendous war crimes.
'The obviously indiscriminate use of heavy artillery in the capital has killed
and wounded hundreds of civilians, and forced over 200,000 more to flee for
their lives', Walter Lindner, German ambassador to Somalia, wrote to the
country's acting president last week.
Displaced persons are 'at great risk of being subjected to looting, extortion
and rape - including by uniformed troops' at a various "checkpoints". Cholera -
endemic to the region during the rainy season - is beginning to cut a swathe
through the displaced', he continued. Adding that attempts by international
groups to offer assistance to the victims are being obstructed by militias who
are stealing supplies, demanding 'taxes', and threatening relief workers.
On 3 April, Associated Press reported that a senior European Union security
official had sent an email to the head of the EU delegation for Somalia warning
'Ethiopian and Somali military forces there may have committed war
crimes...donor countries could be considered complicit if they do nothing to
stop them. I need to advise you that there are strong grounds to believe that
the Ethiopian government and the transitional federal government of Somalia and
the African Union (peacekeeping) Force Commander, possibly also including the
African Union Head of Mission and other African Union officials have, through
commission or omission, violated the Rome Statute of the International Criminal
In the meantime, the Bush administration has worked hard to raise troops from
nearby cooperative states to take over the job. Promises were made, but with one
exception, remain unfulfilled.
In a telephone conversation with Bush, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni
promised to provide between 1,000-2,000 troops to protect Somalia's transitional
government and train its troops.
The Ugandans arrived. But they are said to have been largely confined to their
quarters, refraining from taking part in the effort to crush the opposition.
Meanwhile, the 'transitional government' and Ethiopian forces have been reported
shelling civilian areas in the capital from the government compound they are
None of the reporters on the scene appear to have explored the question of why
the other African governments have failed to send troops. But I think the answer
They would be called 'peacekeepers' but would be called upon to inject
themselves into a civil conflict on the side of an unpopular puppet government,
something they are loath to do.
Three months ago, I wrote:
'If the unfolding events in Iraq are any indication, what started out as a swift
invasion and occupation could turn out to be a long and widening war.'
That was an understatement. At the time of writing, about 1,300 people are
reported to have perished in the fighting. Over 4,300 wounded, and nearly
400,000 have fled their homes. Refugees trying to cross the Red Sea are
reportedly drowning off the Somali coast.
'There is a massive tragedy unfolding in Mogadishu, but from the world's
silence, you would think it's Christmas', the head of a Mogadishu political
think-tank told Cawthorne. 'Somalis, caught up in Mogadishu's worst violence for
16 years, are painfully aware of their place on the global agenda.'
'Nobody cares about Somalia, even if we die in our millions', Cawthorne was told
by Abdirahman Ali, a 29 year-old father-of-two, who works as a security guard in
And, just as in Iraq, US supported forces - the small army of the enthroned and
very unpopular government and the invaders - are caught up in a civil war, set
in motion by invasion and occupation.
Additional to the forces loyal to the overthrown Islamist government, the regime
in power is opposed by the Hawiye, one of the country's largest clans.
A spokesman for the clan recently called upon 'the Somali people, wherever it
exists, to unity in the fight against the Ethiopians. The war is not between
Ethiopia and our tribe, it is between Ethiopia and all Somali people', he said.
'For the major [world] leaders, there is a tremendous embarrassment over
Somalia', Michael Weinstein, a US expert on Somalia at Purdue University told
'They have committed themselves to supporting the interim government - a
government that has no broad legitimacy, a failing government. This is the heart
of the problem. But Western leaders can't back out now, so of course they have
100% no interest in bringing global attention to Somalia. There is no doubt that
Somalia has been shoved aside by major media outlets and global leaders, and the
Somali Diaspora is left crying in the wilderness.'
Last week, during what was described as a lull in the fighting, Ethiopian
soldiers were moving from house to house in the capital Mogadishu, taking
hundreds of men away by the truckload to an uncertain fate.
Meanwhile, the traumatised residents of the rubble strewn city were reported
gathering up bodies, many of them rotting, for burial.
'Most of the displaced civilians are encamped on Mogadishu's outskirts, where
the scenes are medieval', reported The Economist last week.
On 26 April, Martin Fletcher wrote in The (London) Times about five days he
spent in Mogadishu, during which he canvassed many ordinary Somalis:
'People lack water, food and shelter. Cholera has broken out. The sick sometimes
have to pay rent even to sit in the shade of trees. Things will get worse with
the rains, which have started. Aid agencies say people will soon start dying in
large numbers. Some reckon Somalia is facing its biggest humanitarian crisis,
worse than in the early 1990s, when the state collapsed amid famine and
slaughter. Overwhelmingly, they loathed a government they consider a puppet of
the hated Ethiopians.'
Last week the Washington Post reported that interviews it conducted in Ethiopia
and testimony given to diplomats and human rights groups 'paint a picture of a
nation that jails its citizens without reason or trial, and tortures many of
them - despite government claims to the contrary'.
The paper commented that such cases are especially troubling because the US
government, a key Ethiopian ally, has acknowledged interrogating terrorism
suspects in Ethiopian prisons, where some detainees were sent after being
arrested in connection with Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia in December.
The following day the paper reported: 'More than 200 FBI and CIA agents have set
up camp in the Sheraton Hotel here in Ethiopia's capital and have been
interrogating dozens of detainees -- including a US citizen picked up in Somalia
and held without charge and without attorneys in a secret prison somewhere in
this city, according to Ethiopian and U.S. officials who say the interrogations
History will probably record the Ethiopian government's decision to team up with
the US administration for regime change in Somalia as the height of folly. The
country has enough problems at home, brought into sharp relief on 24 April, when
forces of an ethnic-Somali separatist group, the Ogaden National Liberation
Front, raided an oil exploration facility, killing 74 people, including nine
employees of a Chinese oil company.
'As much as China's - and indeed America's - ally Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian
prime minister, might like to be on top of security across the Horn, he is not
always able to deliver. His army is the region's most powerful conventional
force. But under his rule, Ethiopia is fraying again around the edges', said the
Financial Times editorial on 26 April.
Armed separatist groups are now changing tactics. Unable to match the army on
the battlefield, the Ogaden National Liberation Front has chosen the spectacular
to draw attention to its cause.
Only recently, a separatist group in the north tried something similar, by
kidnapping a group of British diplomats. Both horrific events can be attributed
partly to fallout from Ethiopia's messy intervention in neighboring Somalia.
Initial battles last December were decisively in Ethiopia's favour. But like the
Americans in Iraq, the Ethiopians in Somalia were ill prepared for the
aftermath. A growing insurgency has delayed the withdrawal of their troops,
exposing the government to attacks at home. It has also inflamed tension among
ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia. And ironically, the Chinese workers killed near
Ethiopia's border with Somalia may have been victims more of Washington's policy
in the region than of Beijing's.
The US has actively backed Meles Zenawi's Somali adventure. In doing so it has
undermined multilateral efforts to bring about peace. 'There are two main
questions that Colonel Yusuf's and Ethiopia's Western backers should now ask
themselves', said The (London) Guardian 26 April 26.
First, what was gained by encouraging the Ethiopian army to topple the Islamic
Courts? The US allowed Ethiopia to arm itself with North Korean weapons and also
participated in the turkey shoot by using gunships against suspected insurgents
hiding in villages near the Kenyan border.
Second, Washington was convinced that the Islamic Courts were sheltering foreign
terror suspects: 'But how many did they get and what price have Somalis paid?'
'America can be more heavily criticised for subordinating Somali interests to
its own desire to catch a handful of al-Qaeda men who may (or may not)have been
hiding in Mogadishu', said The Economist.
Chatham House, a British think tank of the independent Royal Institute of
International Affairs, has concluded:
'None has been caught, many innocents have died in air strikes, and
anti-American feeling has deepened. Western, especially European, diplomats
watching Somalia from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya to the south, have sounded
the alarm. Their governments have done little.
In an uncomfortably familiar pattern, genuine multilateral concern to support
the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Somalia has been hijacked by unilateral
actions of other international actors - especially Ethiopia and the United
States following their own foreign policy agendas.'
Actually, there is no more reason to believe the Bush administration promoted
this war, in clear violation of international law and the UN Charter, 'to catch
a handful of al-Qaeda men', than that the invasion of Iraq was to eliminate
weapons of mass destruction. What has unfolded over the past three months flows
from much larger strategic calculations in Washington.
The invasion and occupation of Somalia coincided with the Pentagon's now
operational plan to build a new 'Africa Command' to deal with what the Christian
Science Monitor dubbed 'strife, oil, and Al Qaeda'.
When I first visited this subject shortly after the invasion, I quoted 10 per
cent as the figure which is the proportion of our country's petroleum from
Africa; and noted that some experts were saying the US would need to up that to
25 per cent by 2010. Wrong again.
Last week came the news that the US now imports more oil from Africa than from
the Middle East; with Nigeria, Angola and Algeria providing nearly one-fifth of
it - more than from Saudi Arabia.
The rulers in Addis Ababa claim the invasion was a pre-emptive attack on a
threatening Somalia. The Bush administration says giving a wink and a nod to the
attack was merely a chance to capture a few terrorist holed up in Somalia. But
for most of the media and diplomatic observers outside the US, this was another
strategic move to secure positioning in a region where there is a lot of oil.
On file are plans - put on hold amid continuing conflicts - for nearly
two-thirds of Somalia's oil fields to be allocated to the US oil companies
Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips.
It was recently reported that the US-backed prime minister of Somalia has
proposed enactment of a new oil law to encourage the return of foreign oil
companies to the country.
Salim Lone, spokesperson for the UN mission in Iraq in 2003, now a columnist for
The Daily Nation in Kenya, recently told Democracy Now:
'The prime minister's attempt to lure Western oil companies is on a par with his
crying wolf about al-Qaeda at every turn. Every time you interview a Somalia
official, the first thing you hear is al-Qaeda and terrorists. They're using
that. No one believes it. No one believes it at all, because all independent
reports say the contrary.'
I spoke with Kidane last week and she conceded that the situation in Somalia
might seem complex to many in the peace and social justice movements.
However, she said, it is impossible to overlook the parallel with the situation
in the Iraq: 'It's aggression, that is undeniable, and the same language is
being used to justify it.'
Kidane is spot on to insist that the movements for peace and justice in the US -
and elsewhere - must take up the issue. The unlawful US- Ethiopian invasion and
occupation of that country and the accompanying human suffering and human rights
abuses constitute a new - and still mostly hidden - war, which is in many ways
is similar to that in Iraq. And, waged for the same reason.
Carl Bloice is a writer based in San Francisco. He is a member of the National
Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and
Socialism. He is on the editorial board of Black Commentator where a version of
this article was originally published on 2 May 2007.
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