CHAPTER 3: United States counter-terrorism in Somalia

United States Counter-Terrorism in Somalia

Contradictions in United States Strategy in Somalia from 2001 TO 2007



Monograph No 143, May 2008


Peter J Quaranto

In recent years, US officials have described the Horn of Africa as a ‘front line of the war on terror’ (Esther 2003). Yet concerns about terrorism in the Horn extend back to at least August 1998, with the al-Qa’eda-sponsored bombings of American embassies in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi. In October 2000, terrorists attacked USS Cole off the coast of Yemen, killing 17 US soldiers (US Institute of Peace 2004). However, the events of 9/11 solidified counter-terrorism as the overriding lens for US policy in the Horn (Prendergast 2003). Moreover, the subsequent focus on failed states, described in Chapter One, gave the region new priority for US policymakers. Somalia was the obvious linchpin of this concern. The combination of state collapse, proximity to the Middle East and emerging political Islam made Somalia a predictable target (Menkhaus 2004:67). In 2001, the Bush Administration was reportedly considering military strikes against Somalia, alleging ties to al-Qa’eda (Menkhaus 2004:68). However, action was abandoned because of insufficient intelligence. In fact, because the US had been without an embassy in Somalia since 1991, US officials realised their severe lack of ‘real-time knowledge and enduring relationships on the ground’ (Cooke & Henek 2007:4).

This chapter examines US policymaking since the re-securitisation of Somalia in 2001. Chapter Two dissected state collapse in Somalia and analysed events leading up to the current violence. This chapter considers both the reaction and contribution of US policy to those events. Furthermore, this policy cannot be studied without taking into account Washington’s regional efforts to cultivate strong military-to-military relationships, especially with Ethiopia. This chapter thus places US Somalia policy in the wider context of America’s changing role in the region. With the UIC takeover of Mogadishu, the US recently shifted to a two-pillared strategy of backing the Ethiopian invasion and supporting the TFG. Policymakers now emphasise state building as a key tactic of counter-terrorism. However, intensifying violence and growing backlash expose contradictions in this strategy. This chapter concludes with an assessment of the arising predicaments for counter-terrorism. Chapter Four assesses future prospects for peace.

Re-securitising Somalia

Surprisingly, President Bush did not include Somalia in the ‘axis of evil’ in his January 2002 State of the Union address. Following 9/11, Somalia came under intensive scrutiny as the epitome of a failed state easily exploited by terrorists (Menkhaus 2004:49). On 23 September 2001, President Bush included AIAI in Executive Order 13224 that named and blocked the assets of 27 suspected terrorist organisations (International Crisis Group 2005b:3). Furthermore, officials in Washington indicated that Osama bin Laden might seek sanctuary in Somalia. The Washington Times (Gertz) reported on 2 October 2001 that al-Qa’eda was planning a new base of operations in Somalia. Allegations of links between Somalia and terrorism continued. In December 2001, the then US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld remarked, ‘Somalia has been a place that has harboured al-Qa’eda and, to my knowledge, still is’ (‘Wrong Target’2001). The media also republished unsubstantiated claims by Bin Laden in the late 1990s that he had inspired the 1993 killing of US troops in Somalia (‘Bin Laden, Millionaire with a Dangerous Grudge’ 2001). This was boosted by the January 2002 release of the Hollywood film Black Hawk Down. Invoking images of earlier fighting in Mogadishu assisted the re-securitisation of Somalia.

Meanwhile, Washington authorised military operations to monitor and assess the situation in Somalia. Military overflights with P-3 aircraft conducted surveillance while increased numbers of US ships and submarines patrolled the Somali coastline (‘Moving Target’ 2001). Reportedly about 100 US Special Forces operated in the country, similar to early incursions into Afghanistan (‘US Special Units “Are Already at Work in Somalia”’ 2001). Menkhaus (2004:68) writes, ‘Sources inside the US government contend that the Bush Administration came close to approving military action in Jan or Feb 2002.’ However, investigations found no clear evidence of al-Qa’eda ties or presence in Somalia. The most likely place for a terrorist base, a camp at Ras Komboni on the southern tip of the country, was found abandoned (De Waal &Salam 2004:246). Moreover, aside from a few individuals, no proof was found of ties between AIAI and al-Qa’eda (Menkhaus 2004:65). Furthermore, many now doubt Bin Laden’s claims of involvement in the infamous 1993 Mogadishu fighting.

Along with these military considerations, the US immediately took financial action to target individuals suspected of links with terrorism. In November 2001, Washington placed Hassan Dahir Aweys on its terrorist list (International Crisis Group 2005a). The US declared that the suspected terrorist Fazul Abdullah Mohamed was operating within Somali borders (Harper 2007). Sanctions on individuals, however, soon turned to those on groups. On 7 November 2001, the US Treasury blocked the assets of the largest Somali telecommunications and remittance network, al-Barakaat (Menkhaus 2004:67). According to the November 2001 press release by the White House, al-Barakaat offices ‘raise, manage and distribute funds for al-Qa’eda; provide terrorist supporters with Internet service and secure telephone communications; and arrange for the shipment of weapons’. However, evidence has still not been produced for these allegations. De Waal and A.H. Abdel Salam (2004:246) argue, ‘This was the financial equivalent of carpet bombing, and thousands of Somalis, especially in the diaspora, lost savings and the ability to remit money back home.’ Within the country, al-Barakaat kept money for small and middle-sized traders seeking to avoid robbery and build capital (Marchal 2004). US failure to justify this policy has caused bitterness among many Somalis.

Meanwhile, meta-narratives of danger and threat have continued to pervade Western public statements about Somalia. Analysts have preached future threats, arguing that Somalia is an obvious location where ‘terrorists could gather and from which they could burst forth to spread chaos and devastation’ (Rotberg 2005a:8). Furthermore, Somalia’s geo-strategic location makes it an obvious target of US concern. Its neighbour across the Gulf of Aden, Yemen, provides natural gas and oil to the US and has become a growing yet delicate ally. Historically, Somalia has been seen as a gateway between the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, Washington ideally seeks a stable government in Somalia with which it can partner. Conversely, however, officials fear that a hostile Islamic regime in Somalia would undermine US interests in the region. It could provide access and advantages to the US rivals in the Middle East, namely Iran and Syria. Given these scenarios, state collapse, especially if semi-predictable, has been a preferred option to an unfriendly government. Until most recently, Washington invested much more in neighbouring states to monitor and contain Somalia (Piombo 2007).

United States counter-terrorism in Africa’s Horn

This section turns to US efforts in the wider region to secure access and allies. Former US Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn (2006) writes, ‘US influence with countries in the region that are involved in Somalia varies from considerably (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Egypt) to very little in nations like Iran, Sudan, Eritrea, and Libya.’ To those with which it has influence, the US has been eager to increase its support. These allies have received increased assistance and diplomatic recognition. In addition, they have been the main beneficiaries of US ‘capacity-building’ programmes, which give Washington ‘even more intimate engagement with governing institutions’ (Chandler 2006a:87). In 2003, the US launched the $100 million East Africa Counter-Terrorism Initiative (EACTI), which includes training for border patrol, coastal security and police activity (Shinn 2004:41). Kenya and Ethiopia have received the majority of this funding. Furthermore, the US subsidised ‘comprehensive anti-money laundering/counter-terrorist financing arrangements, including setting up a computer system in selected airports in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda’ (Kagwanja 2006:82), giving US officials new regulatory power, without the past constraints of accountability (Chandler 2006a:11–18).

The unique element of this engagement is the prominence of the Pentagon (Piombo 2007:5). In 2002, the Bush Administration established the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa (CJTF–HOA), ‘a semi-permanent troop presence at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti with more than 1 500 US military and civilian personnel in residence’ (Ploch 2007:7). The base allegedly includes special operations forces (Barnes 2005:7). Beyond that base, however, CJTF–HOA has set up the essential elements of facilities or ‘lily pads’ in various locations on the continent, including Kenya and Uganda (Ploch 2007:7). This realignment of US troops has continued. In 2005, the Department of Defence issued Directive 3000.05, prioritising stabilisation operations in failing states. This move was followed by the February 2007 announcement of the new Africa Command (Africom) to strengthen regional stability on the continent (Ploch 2007:1–2). Africom will be led by a four-star general and include an estimated 1 000-strong staff (Trimble 2007:11). Within the Horn, these moves are positioning US military to respond more actively to perceived threats. However, there are fears that increased US troop presence may cause a backlash and become a target for local hostility (Sapolsky &Friedman 2007).

Recognising that risk, US military strategy in Africa has prioritised ‘building partnership capacity’ (Ploch 2007:17): The Pentagon is priming regional allies to lead in crisis response and counter-terrorism operations. The stated purpose of CJTF–HOA is to ‘conduct operations and training to assist host nations to combat terrorism in order to establish a secure environment and enable regional stability’. Thus far, the bulk of its work has been training national militaries in the region, particularly those of Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya (Shinn 2004:41). Through joint exercises, the Pentagon secures strong military-to-military relationships for intelligence sharing and crisis management (Kaplan 2006). The US is further able to strengthen these relationships through the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) and the Group of Eight’s (G8’s) new Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), which provide equipment and training for African peacekeepers (Lawson 2007:4). Additionally, CJTF–HOA has undertaken civilian affairs projects in the region, such as building schools. These projects offer another pretext for the US to build relationships and gain familiarity with an area, while trying to improve public image (Hill 2006:634). Through this regional engagement, Washington has secured stronger military alliances to counter perceived threats.

Nevertheless, the durability of this strategy is contested. Undoubtedly, certain risks have the potential to provoke reactionary violence. The privileging of state stability has often given regional governments a pretext to justify repressive and illiberal practices (Kagwanja 2006:73). The US has clearly been less critical of regimes that are cooperating in the war on terror. Menkhaus (2007) thus contends, ‘Because almost every government in the region is to varying degrees cooperating with the US in the war on terror, popular anger at repressive or unresponsive regional states is easily conflated with anti-Americanism.’ This situation is further complicated by the militarising of US presence in the region, breeding suspicion and memories of colonialism. The Pentagon’s increasing influence has conversely meant a diminishing of the traditional mechanisms of diplomacy (US Institute of Peace 2004). This not only empowers regional militaries but also privileges military approaches to addressing security issues. In the Horn, Washington’s alliance with Ethiopia is the primary example of these dynamics.

United States–Ethiopian ties

US–Ethiopian ties date back to 1952 when Ethiopia became America’s largest Cold War ally in the Horn. Ethiopia received the most US military aid of any country in sub-Saharan Africa during the 1960s and 1970s (Woodward 2003:135). These close relations were halted after Mengistu Haile Mariam took power in 1974 but have been rekindled since his overthrow in 1991. Most recently, with renewed interest in the Horn, Washington has turned to its old ally. Since 9/11, ‘Ethiopia has been the United States’ closest ally in the Greater Horn’ (Prendergast &Thomas-Jensen 2007:66). This alliance is reinforced by the Zenawi regime’s own domestic struggles against Islamic insurgents, including the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and AIAI.

In this alliance, Ethiopia has received significantly increased US military assistance and training. From 2002 to 2005, Ethiopia received $16 billion in foreign military financing, more than twice the amount received during the previous 11 years (Centre for Defence Information 2007). Furthermore, the Ethiopian military has been a key beneficiary of trainings conducted by CJTF–HOA, including at least three new anti-terrorism battalions (Shinn 2004:41). Furthermore, The New York Times (Gordon &Mazzetti 2007) reported on 7 April 2007 that the Bush Administration had allowed Ethiopia to purchase arms from North Korea in violation of UN sanctions. In addition to military aid, Ethiopia has received increased development assistance and reportedly over $460 million in food aid in 2005 (Prendergast &Thomas-Jensen 2007:66). These developments have created a tight partnership clearly recognised by the region’s inhabitants (Tynes 2006:111).

In Ethiopia, the Zenawi regime has at times used this counter-terror relationship to avert criticism for illiberal practices, including imprisoning its political opposition. US silence has bred local resentment. Terrence Lyons (2006:29) writes, ‘Furthermore, the close association of the United States and Ethiopia complicates relationships between Washington and other regional actors, notably Eritrea and a range of Somali groups.’ US backing of Ethiopia in regard to the disputed border has inflamed Eritreans (Prendergast &Thomas-Jensen 2007:66–67). In Somalia, the US and Ethiopia are mostly seen as inseparable. Given most Somalis’ enmity toward Ethiopians, this perception puts Washington in a dangerous position. The recent Ethiopian invasion was thus predictably seen as US-inspired. In fact, the US clearly gave a ‘tacit green light to invade Somalia’ (International Crisis Group 2007:7). Marchal (2007) argues, ‘Intervention would not have been possible without the American consent and, most of all, American funding.’ This association presents danger for Ethiopia. Being seen as a pawn for US interests ‘runs the danger of creating Muslim–Christian tensions where none exist, and exacerbating these divisions where they do’ (Mohammed 2007). Violent extremists trying to permeate the region may easily exploit these divisions.

United States policy in Somalia from 2002 to June 2006

This chapter now returns to policies and dynamics within Somalia. After the initial anxiety following 9/11, US efforts to gain access to Somalia hardly subsided. While securing regional allies, Washington was actively identifying potential partners and rivals within Somalia. First, sharing Ethiopia’s fears of the TNG in 2002, the US implicitly opposed the government by refusing it recognition. In 2004, the US reportedly considered labelling the TNG a state sponsor of terrorism, ‘a move that could have meant devastating political and economic restrictions on its leadership and commercial sponsors’ (International Crisis Group 2005b:26). Meanwhile, on the partnering side, Washington financed the establishment of several counter-terror networks. In the Puntland region, US assistance helped develop intelligence services for surveillance and the arrest of suspected terrorists (International Crisis Group 2005a:9). In southern Somalia, the US began paying several militia and business leaders to monitor suspected terrorists.4 These individuals were paid to carry out sporadic snatch-and-grab operations. Although these efforts had some success, they remained ‘piecemeal and ad hoc, a problem complicated by rapid turnover of personnel’ (International Crisis Group 2005a:16).

More significantly, these snatch-and-grab operations did little to challenge the societal rise of political Islam. In fact, they may actually have contributed to the popularity of the UIC. By 2006, the US was paying Somali militants up to $150 000 a month for their support. Within Mogadishu, this fact was widely known and resented. Several of these militants had formed a coalition, reportedly called the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism (Prendergast &Thomas-Jensen 2007:68). Targeting Islamists, the alliance was drawn into confrontation with the emerging courts (International Crisis Group 2007:7). In May 2006, conflict escalated and fighting broke out in Mogadishu between the groups (Lyons 2006:17). The local population, largely equating the courts with security and the US-backed warlords with the status quo, backed the UIC. Menkhaus (2007) writes, ‘The complete defeat of the Alliance in June 2006 left the US with no effective eyes and ears in Mogadishu.’ It also left the US with even less public support.

Back in Washington, Somalia finally resurfaced in the media. The Washington Post (Wax &De Young 2006) broke the story of US support for Somali warlords on 17 May 2006. Later that month, the Somalia political affairs officer at the US embassy in Kenya, Michael Zorick, was transferred after voicing disagreement with the policy (Hull 2006). Facing public pressure and especially UIC control of Mogadishu, the State Department shifted to its current state building rhetoric. Before, Washington had been backing the TFG, but with little focus. For example, the US contributed only $250 000 to the $10 million IGAD process that established the TFG (Prendergast &Thomas-Jensen 2007:68). Yet in summer 2006, State officials began articulating a two-pillared policy of building democratic institutions and counter-terrorism. Spokesman Sean McCormack (2006) said:

‘We believe that these two things go hand in hand in fighting terrorism and then building up the institutions in Somalia, because if you have a well-governed state with strong governing institutions, you are likely not going to have a safe haven for terrorism.’

The US established the International Somalia Contact Group with the goals of supporting the TFG and counter-terrorism and regional stabilisation (Frazer 2006).

These shifts were largely reactionary and meant to mitigate the surge of the UIC. A proactive strategy, however, would require real-time knowledge and institutional engagement, two components that were still deeply lacking. As of the end of 2006, the US still had ‘no full-time, senior-level leadership in Washington or in the region charged with directing policy’ (Cooke &Henek 2007:4). This is especially remarkable given that plans to invade the country were drawn up a mere four years earlier. Furthermore, Ambassador Shinn (2004:42) argues, ‘The US has allowed its language and area expertise [of the Horn] among foreign affairs personnel to degrade to dangerous levels.’ Washington continued relying mostly on Ethiopia and Kenya for intelligence, even though both have obvious biases. More dangerously, the lack of expertise allowed formulaic perceptions of political Islam, state collapse and the new ‘state-building’ policy. Nothing makes ‘involvement’ become ‘intrusion’ swifter than a seeming lack of cultural or historical sensitivity.

United States policy in Somalia from June 2006 to September 2007

Though initially expressing a pragmatic approach to the UIC, Washington was immediately concerned by the courts’ expansion beyond Mogadishu. In a June 2006 meeting in Addis Ababa, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer and Rear Admiral Richard Hunt reportedly committed to support Ethiopian action ‘if jihadists took over’ (Snow 2007). Over the following months, Washington insisted on cautious dialogue between the TFG and UIC. However, US officials, particularly Frazer, remained sceptical of prospects for negotiations. At the UN Security Council, US representatives began advocating an African stabilisation force to avoid conflict and protect the TFG. US officials argued that a force of this kind was needed because of the courts’ ‘continued military expansion’. Notably, the initial draft of Resolution 1725 did not exclude frontline states from contributing troops, leading many to believe it was ‘a cover for Ethiopian involvement’ (International Crisis Group 2007:7). Although the final draft excluded frontline states, the UIC perceived it as a direct affront to their rule (Lyons 2006:26).

Then, in December 2006, Frazer publicly stated that the UIC was now ‘controlled’ by members of al-Qa’eda. Frazer remarked, ‘The top layer of the courts are extremists. They are terrorists’ (International Crisis Group 2007:4).This allegation, as discussed in Chapter Two, was exaggerated. In fact, while the militant wing of the UIC had gained influence, the courts still lacked organisational ties with al-Qa’eda or any institutional involvement in terrorism’. Still, Frazer’s timing the statement with the Ethiopian advance solidified perceptions of US backing for the invasion. Indeed, given US–Ethiopian ties, it is unlikely that the intervention would have happened without US sanction (Marchal 2007). As fighting broke out, the State Department offered minimal criticism, even though the invasion clearly breached several tenets of international law. Rather, the State Department’s spokesman McCormack (2007) actually downplayed the ensuing violence by reiterating that Somalia ‘had two decades worth of violence, war, humanitarian crises, warlordism and essentially chaos’. The New York Times (Mazzetti 2007a) later reported that certain Pentagon officials saw the invasion as a blueprint for the use of surrogate forces in the future for counter-terrorism.

Yet, regardless of US complicity in the Ethiopian offensive, Washington certainly saw it as an opportunity. On 7 January 2007, US AC-130 gunships began firing on remote regions in southern Somalia, claiming to target jihadistsretreating from Mogadishu (Menkhaus 2007). More air strikes followed the next day and on 23 January (International Crisis Group 2007). The primary targets of the strikes were ‘three “high-value” al Qaeda associates accused of organising the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, and the 2003 hotel and airlines attacks in Mombasa, Kenya’ (Cooke &Henek 2007:3). There have been no definitive reports on the results of the strikes, but most analyses are highly critical. The three suspects are still believed to be at large, many innocent civilians were killed and anti-Americanism increased (‘Somalia: War in the Horn?’ 2007). For many Somalis, the air strikes solidified the role of the US in the invasion and collapse of public order (Harper 2007). They have been used as a rallying cry by extremists intent on capitalising on counter-hegemonic resistance (Prendergast & Thomas-Jensen 2007:69).

Meanwhile, the US has found itself in an increasingly awkward position: identified with an unpopular Ethiopian occupation and a worsening situation. Right after the invasion, Washington pressed for the deployment of the African stabilisation force to replace the Ethiopians, promising $14 million in initial support (Shinn 2007). However, only Uganda, seeking to boost its reputation with the US, sent 1 400 troops (‘Uganda: America’s Friend’ 2007). At the same time, Washington continued mobilising support for the TFG while promoting inclusive national reconciliation (Frazer 2007). The European Union was frustrated that reconciliation seemed to be taking a back seat to backing the TFG (Weinstein 2007e). US officials made it a priority only after realising that the TFG could not survive without greater inclusion. On 7 April 2007, Frazer made a surprise visit to Baidoa, delivering this message to President Yusuf (Weinstein 2007g). Washington appointed a special envoy, Ambassador John Yates, to work with the TFG and coordinate US policy (Nguyen 2007). Still, TFG officials prefer to minimise reconciliation, fearing they may lose control. Given Western fear of Islamists re-emerging, the TFG believes it can defy these demands without losing US support (Marchal 2007). The US is thus frozen between a vulnerable state-building project and new terrorist threats, the likely result of incoherent strategy.

In the original report, the current section concluded at this point.5 However, developments that have since taken place between May and September are worth noting. One is that the US special envoy to Somalia has brought a more sophisticated and sober approach to the situation. Washington seems to have a greater realisation of the waning credibility of the TFG. However, without considerable alternatives, US officials have continued to press the TFG to become more inclusive and conciliatory. US officials have worked through the International Somalia Contact Group to support the NRC and prepare for elections in 2009 (Yates 2007). At the same time, US officials continue pressing and offering incentives for other African countries to send troops to support Amisom. US officials believe that a stronger peacekeeping force is needed to allow for Ethiopian withdrawal. Yet, as of October 2007, no African state appears to be willing to send troops into such an explosive situation.

The other major development has been escalating hostility between the US and Eritrea. Although the two countries were once working partners in the war on terror, Washington has increasingly accused Eritrea of meddling in Somali affairs and funding Islamist groups, including jihadists(Swan 2007). In August 2007, US Assistant Secretary of State Frazer reported that the US was considering placing Eritrea on the list of states sponsoring terrorists (Mazzetti 2007b). Threats by both sides have made for a tense situation with fears that violence in Somalia could expand to a rekindled border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Top US officials have already made several trips to the region in fear of escalating border tensions. A regional perspective of the unfolding events around Somalia demands continued research and monitoring.

Counter-terrorism predicaments

Washington now finds itself in a situation it has hoped to avoid, that of supporting an unpopular government against mounting resentment, which has only added to the appeal of international extremist movements. The continuing violence in Somalia ‘is easily portrayed as one front in a global insurgency against a US agenda of dominating the Muslim world’ (Mohammed 2007). Al-Qa’eda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri made that very case in a speech in January 2007, connecting the resistance in Somalia to that in Afghanistan and Iraq. Several Internet videos recruit foreign fighters for Somalia by invoking the role of the US in the conflict (Black 2007:13–15). The presence of foreign fighters would greatly change the dynamics on the ground, likely triggering more US strikes and sustained involvement. As yet, there has been no evidence of foreign participation, but insurgents have adopted tactics from Iraq (Moss & Mekhennet 2007). Peter Kagwanja (2006:82) argues that paradoxically, US military involvement provides a tempting target for al-Qa’eda, yet it prompts a greater rush in Washington ‘to maintain stricter surveillance’. In a sense, the two feed off each other.

In 2005, the International Crisis Group (2005b) reported that the Somalis themselves had provided the greatest defence against Islamic extremism, not foreign initiatives. Somalis’ suspicion of foreigners and their ideologies may be the best protection against jihadism(Black 2007:16). Yet, at the same time, this mistrust is applied to the US and its intentions in the region. The danger is that strikes and snatch-and-grab operations increasingly make the US a target of Somali resentment, one that can be radicalised. De Waal and Salam (2004:257) argue, ‘Confrontation will only nurture intolerance, jihadism may again become the sorcerer’s apprentice of war.’ However, this possibility presents a predicament because Washington will not adopt a passive position when it has intelligence of highly sought terrorists in Somalia. An effective counter-terror strategy must surely include short-term tactics to apprehend dangerous suspects. One needs to ask what particularly it is about US tactics that causes local antagonism. Conversely, one needs to know how Washington can achieve its short-term goals while minimising a backlash that undermines a long-term strategy.

A new dynamic of US operations is lack of public information and, consequently, lack of public accountability. David Chandler (2006b) argues that Western states are increasingly seeking to ‘deny the power they wield’ in the non-Western world, in what he labels ‘empire in denial’. By focusing on ‘partnership’ and by employing surrogates, the US downplays its political role. Chandler (2006a:21) calls this method ‘the politics of the evasion of responsibility’. The problem in Somalia’s case is that this evasion perpetuates suspicion, and violent extremists can easily manipulate the ensuing confusion. For example, Somalis almost fully associate the US with the Ethiopian invasion. However, believed US concealment may actually incite anger because accountability has thus been removed. Alternatively, transparency would at least undercut confusion about US intentions. Most importantly, it could better position the US to show clear leadership, expanding the International Contact Group for Somalia and uniting regional actors (Cooke & Henek 2007:5).

Nevertheless, another predicament involves US use of state building as a tactic for counter-terrorism. Washington’s role in the overthrow of the UIC, associated with stability by many Somalis, has deepened resentment. Moreover, persisting to defend the TFG without condition will likely continue to fuel conflict in the short term (Menkhaus 2006/2007:94). Without substantive transformation, the TFG will continue to disillusion Hawiyeindividuals, making them easy allies for former UIC militants. Although Washington fears leaving a security vacuum, it must set and enforce clear conditions for its support for the TFG (Cooke &Henek 2007:4). Processes of power sharing among not only the rivalling clans but also the various political groups are essential if the TFG is ever to be a credible governing body (International Crisis Group 2005a:18). In fact, as the next chapter explains, these processes should probably precede establishing a comprehensive central government. The rigid and rushed insistence on the Westphalian model puts constraints on reconciliation (Murithi 2005:45).

Simply, the predicament that Somalia exposes is that the very processes of seeking control may hold the seeds for later insecurity. This chapter has shown that US policymaking toward Somalia is driven by efforts to normalise and regulate dynamics. As Chapter One showed, US officials perceive the greatest threat as the ‘unpredictable’ or, from a more critical perspective, the ‘uncontrollable’. Without a more nuanced assessment, the UIC was quickly put in this category. However, as this chapter documented, US efforts to gain control have contributed to new levels of violence and instability. Local resentment is particularly stoked by the reliance on surrogates and lack of public transparency. The current shift to tactical state building is falling prey to the same backlash, especially given the volatility of the Somali ‘state’ described in Chapter Two. This comment is not to argue against state building but to problematise its recent application in relation to counter-terrorism. State building is a deeply important and highly volatile process; those on the outside who involve themselves in it must be well prepared to accept the often erratic consequences of that involvement.

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