America’s Stealth Presence in Somalia
Andrew Cochran termed last night’s attacks on al Qaeda targets there the “first publicly acknowledged military action against Somalian territory since 1993.”
U.S. ground forces have been active in Somalia from the start, a senior military intelligence officer confirmed. “In fact,” he said, “they were part of the first group in.”
These ground forces include CIA paramilitary officers who are based out of Galkayo, in Somalia’s semiautonomous region of Puntland; Special Operations forces; and Marine units operating out of Camp Lemonier in Djibouti.
The presence of U.S. airpower in Somalia became public knowledge yesterday when CBS News reported that an AC-130 fixed-wing gunship carried out a strike against suspected al-Qaeda members in southern Somalia. Unmanned aerial drones kept the targets under surveillance while a gunship operated by the U.S. Special Operations Command flew from its base in Djibouti to the southern tip of Somalia.
America supported Ethiopia and the UN-recognized secular government of Somalia because of the ICU’s ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The ICU is led by al-Qaeda ally Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. The ICU gave refuge to three al-Qaeda terrorists believed responsible for the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, which claimed the lives of twelve American diplomats and 212 Africans. The ICU operated seventeen terrorist training camps inside Somalia. Finally, some one thousand foreign fighters came to Somalia to train or teach at those camps.
It’s amazing that we’ve managed to do this surreptitiously in a climate where seemingly everything leaks to the press. It also gives some small lie to the notion that, with America’s forces bogged down in Iraq, we’ve taken our eye off the ball with al Qaeda. It would seem that we are maintaining an aggressive posture on that front.
UPDATE: Marc Lynch thinks the way this was carried out could be self-defeating.
Seeing the CNN feed on al-Jazeera like that is a nice graphic demonstration of how far media globalization has gone. But more important is the origin of the images themselves. That CNN actually got live images of the US airstrike is kind of remarkable – was it not a secret mission? Did CNN just happen to have cameras hanging around a suspected al-Qaeda base in Somalia? Or was the strike meant for public consumption, and the US military wanted the cameras to capture it?
If the latter, all I can say is “huh”… because the emerging press coverage of US military support for Ethiopia, along with these images of a direct US airstrike inside Somalia, are nicely feeding the al-Qaeda narrative placing Somalia within the wider framework of American assaults against Islam: “I am here calling upon the Muslim ummah in Somalia to resist in this new battlefield of the Crusader’s war, which is launched by America, its allies, and the United Nations against Islam and the Muslims,” as Ayman al-Zawahiri’s most recent short tape put it. Wouldn’t it have made sense to try and combat that narrative, and keep the United States out of the Somalia issue as much as possible, rather than highlight the American role and confirm the al-Qaeda narrative?
Perhaps. Then again, we have our own narrative at stake as well: If you are a state sponsor of al Qaeda, your government and your territory is not safe. It’s not particularly helpful to pretend that al Qaeda and its Islamist cohorts are not a major part of the narrative if, in fact, it is.