6714Somalia: Fighting in the Shadows
- Jun 1, 2006Fighting in the Shadows
Battles rage near the scene of 'Black Hawk Down'and a
covert American hand is tied to the warlords.
By Michael Hirsh and Jeffrey Bartholet
June 5, 2006 issue - Mogadishu is a place most
Americans would rather forget. During the 1990s, the
"Black Hawk Down" debacle symbolized the dangers of
dabbling in far-off lands we don't understand. TV
images of a half-stripped GI being dragged through the
dust by gleeful Somalishe was one of 18 U.S. Army
Rangers killed in a botched effort to arrest a
warlordbecame an emblem of American vulnerability.
But Mogadishu, it seems, won't be forgotten. Somalia
is erupting in violence again. And with little
warning, Americans find themselves once more in the
middle of battles they only dimly comprehendand may
well be losing.
Last week, for the first time since the early 1990s,
much of the Somali capital was engulfed in bloody fire
fights. By all accounts, a jihadist militia of the
so-called Islamic Courts Union was gaining ground on
an alliance of secular warlords who have received U.S.
backing. Observers say the Union has been winning
adherents by casting its enemies as stooges of
Washington, especially since the U.S.-friendly
warlords formed a group called the Alliance for the
Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism last
winter. The revived fighting inside Somaliaa lawless
state on the Horn of Africa with no central
governmenthas raised new questions about America's
global war on terror, which is being fought mostly out
of the public eye.
For several years Somalia's three major anti-Islamist
warlords have received U.S. cash and some equipment to
help with intelligence operations, according to
several unofficial sources, including John Prendergast
of the International Crisis Group. No U.S. government
official reached by NEWSWEEK would confirm or deny
that the program existed. Philip Giraldi, a former CIA
counterterrorism official who stays in touch with his
ex-colleagues, says much of the money is funneled
through the 1,800-man Joint Combined Task Force, based
in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. Other reports point
to the CIA. The warlordsMohamed Dheere, Bashir Raghe
and Mohamed Qanyarehave been asked to collect
information on Muslim extremists tied to Al Qaeda. In
one 2003 case, Dheere's men snatched an East African
Qaeda cell member and turned him over.
The policy has provoked dissent at both the CIA and
the State Department, as well as in Europe. Some
officials fear that America may be inadvertently
creating a new jihadist haven in Somalia by generating
an anti-U.S. backlash. Before the U.S. program began,
the Islamists were only a small part of the
population. "We know neither the rationale nor the
scale of U.S. involvement; what we do see are
consequences," says Marika Fahlen, Swedish ambassador
and special envoy for the Horn of Africa: "The
fighting is increasingly complex. Certain [Islamist]
groups that were not so active in fighting before have
become fighters." Giraldi is more blunt. "We're
creating a new mess," he says. "Everything is tactical
with this administration: catching a guy, catching a
guy. I don't see that anyone has thought about the
strategic issue of losing support."
Washington is also spending money on "hearts and
minds" projects in the Horn of Africa
regionrefurbishing schools and offering free health
and dental services in some places. But those programs
are impossible for Westerners to carry out in lawless
Mogadishu. The question is whether the Islamists are
gaining hearts and minds more quickly. One of the
pro-U.S. warlords, Qanyare, denied in a phone
interview with NEWSWEEK from Somalia that he was
getting any U.S. money. But he said he had "contacts"
with American agents, and was very worried about the
inroads of the Islamists. They want "to make a
government of their own, Taliban style," Qanyare said.
"They feel they are strong and that this is a time
they can do something ... They are organizing from the
grass roots. They're organizing schools, education,
services. They collect a lot of money from the
The U.S. warlord-support strategy is part of a series
of clandestine operations around the world conducted
with little accountability back home. The broad shadow
war is conducted by the CIA, Special Operations
commander Gen. Doug Brown, "black ops" commander Lt.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the Pentagon's
intelligence czar, Steve Cambone, along with his
deputy, Lt. Gen. William Boykin. The U.S. strategy of
quietly destroying jihadist cells outside Iraq and
Afghanistan since 9/11 has had its successes. Among
them: the capture of Algerian terrorist Abderrazak
al-Para in 2004, the assassination of a jihadist
leader in Yemen by a Hellfire missile strike in 2004
and the routing of Abu Sayyaf from Basilan Island in
Publicly, the administration will not admit to any
policy of aiding warlords. But officials with the Red
Cross and other aid groups in Mogadishu report seeing
"many Americans with thick necks and short haircuts
moving around, carrying big suitcases," says one aid
official whose agency does not permit him to speak on
the record. And in recent months a diplomat critical
of U.S. policy in Somalia, Michael Zorick, apparently
was removed from his post in Nairobi after writing
cables complaining about the strategy. (Zorick, who
was moved to the embassy in Chad, could not be reached
for comment Friday.) A political officer at the U.S.
Embassy in Kenya, Lisa Peterson, refused to comment on
the reasons for Zorick's departure. But she said that
U.S. policy is under review, with State
Counterterrorism chief Hank Crumpton currently on a
visit to the Horn. Asked whether Zorick's dissent, and
the current debate, were mainly about whether
Washington might be creating more Islamist radi-cals
than it is killing or capturing, she said, "Those are
certainly questions that have come up."
At CIA stations in East Africa, some agency officials
believe the United States is being "essentially
defrauded," says a retired CIA station chief who
recently visited there and wanted to remain anonymous
because he was discussing sensitive issues. "They
think we should take a deep breath and settle down.
We're throwing money at anybody who will say they're
fighting terrorism." Indeed, some suspects grabbed in
recent years by friendly militia leaders have turned
out to be mere drifters: in one case, a hapless Iraqi
was snatched at a cybercafé in Mogadishu, only to be
interrogated for a month and released.
U.S. officials say they're in an impossible spot:
either leave Somalia to be a terrorist haven or try to
form relationships with friendlies, even untrustworthy
ones. "Any time you have these areas that are
ungovernable, you have to talk to somebody inside,"
says Gary Berntsen, the former CIA team leader who
allied with Afghan warlords to help defeat the Taliban
in Afghanistan in 2001. "There's no choice." But for
an administration that professes to see building
democracy as a solution to global terrorism, the
warlord strategy may not advance U.S. goals.
Some intelligence experts say the key is to keep the
U.S. "footprint" so small that it is undetectable. "In
the case of countering Al Qaeda, the record seems to
suggest that less is more," says John Arquilla, an
intelligence expert at the Naval Postgraduate School.
"A small investment can achieve very substantial
results, like al-Para, whereas in the Horn of Africa a
much greater investment has been made with much
smaller results." There may be worse results to come.
Somali Islamists seize rival base
New battles have broken out in the Somali capital,
Mogadishu, killing at least 13 people.
Militia of the Islamic Courts attacked and captured a
garage where their rivals loyal to a group of secular
warlords were based in the north-east.
Earlier in the week the warlords calling themselves
the Anti-Terrorism Alliance seized a hospital in the
area, forcing dozens of wounded to flee.
More than 200 people, mainly civilians, have died in
the recent fighting.
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