Somalia Repels US-Backed Warlords
- Islamists claim Mogadishu victory
Monday, 5 June 2006
An Islamist militia says it has seized Somalia's capital, Mogadishu,
after weeks of fighting against an alliance of warlords allegedly
backed by the US.
The warlords have controlled the capital since they toppled Somalia's
last effective government 15 years ago.
Talks are taking place with fighters still loyal to the warlords,
Union of Islamic Courts officials said.
Interim Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Ghedi says his government wants to
begin dialogue with the group.
Earlier, Mr Ghedi sacked four powerful Mogadishu-based warlords who
had been serving as ministers.
Nine of the 11 Mogadishu-based warlords have now left the city,
reports the BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan.
The four sacked ministers include Security Minister Mohammed Qanyare
Afrah and Trade Minister Muse Sudi Yalahow who over the weekend lost
control of their Mogadishu strongholds.
Most of Mr Qanyare Afrah's fighters have joined the Islamic militia,
but Mr Sudi Yalahow and his commanders remain in the capital and are
locked in talks over their next move.
This year's clashes in the capital have been the most serious for more
than a decade, with some 330 people killed and about 1,500 injured in
the past month.
In a statement read over local radio stations, the Union of Islamic
Courts leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said the control of Mogadishu
by warlords was over and he urged residents to accept the new leadership.
"The Union of Islamic Courts are not interested in a continuation of
hostilities and will fully implement peace and security after the
change has been made by the victory of the people with the support of
Allah," he said.
"This is a new era for Mogadishu," he told AFP news agency, adding
that the Islamic Courts were ready for dialogue.
It's good to see conflict resolved but I don't want to celebrate a
Hawa Ismail Qorey,
In pictures: Militia 'victory'
Local people in Mogadishu gave a cautious welcome to the news.
"They said they would work with residents to improve security in the
capital," city resident Ali Abdikadir told Reuters news agency.
"This is good news for us because the warlords were always engaged in
battles. We are looking forward to a life without fighting."
Sharia law concerns
But some seemed unconvinced that the weeks of bloodshed were really over.
"It's good to see conflict resolved but I don't want to celebrate a
temporary victory," housewife Hawa Ismail Qorey told AFP. "Mogadishu
is witnessing political history but it may be good or it may be bad."
Facts and figures about life in Somalia
And others expressed concern about what the future might hold with
Islamists who want to introduce Sharia law in control.
"What I am afraid of is if they interfere with the education system
and bring religion by force to the schools," Asha Idris, a mother of
five, told AFP.
On Saturday, UN aid workers pulled out of Jowhar, some 90km (56 miles)
north of Mogadishu, in case the fighting spread there.
The violence began earlier this year when warlords who had divided
Mogadishu into fiefdoms united to form the Anti-Terrorism Alliance to
tackle the Islamic Courts, who they accused of sheltering foreign
The Islamic Courts deny this. They were originally set up in Mogadishu
as a grassroots movement by businessmen to establish some law and
order in a city without any judicial system.
The head of the BBC's Somali service described the rise of the Islamic
Courts as a popular uprising.
The Islamic Courts have long said the warlords in the Anti-Terror
Alliance were being backed by the US.
Washington merely says it will support those trying to stop people it
considers terrorists setting up in Somalia but stresses its commitment
to the country's transitional government, which functions from Baidoa,
250km (155 miles) north-west of the capital.
President Abdullahi Yusuf had urged the US to channel its campaign
against Somalia's Islamists through his government, rather than the
U.S. SECRETLY BACKING WARLORDS IN SOMALIA
By Emily Wax and Karen DeYoung
Wednesday, May 17, 2006; A01
More than a decade after U.S. troops withdrew from Somalia following a
disastrous military intervention, officials of Somalia's interim
government and some U.S. analysts of Africa policy say the United
States has returned to the African country, secretly supporting
secular warlords who have been waging fierce battles against Islamic
groups for control of the capital, Mogadishu.
The latest clashes, last week and over the weekend, were some of the
most violent in Mogadishu since the end of the American intervention
in 1994, and left 150 dead and hundreds more wounded. Leaders of the
interim government blamed U.S. support of the militias for provoking
U.S. officials have declined to directly address on the record the
question of backing Somali warlords, who have styled themselves as a
counterterrorism coalition in an open bid for American support.
Speaking to reporters recently, State Department spokesman Sean
McCormack said the United States would "work with responsible
individuals . . . in fighting terror. It's a real concern of ours --
terror taking root in the Horn of Africa. We don't want to see another
safe haven for terrorists created. Our interest is purely in seeing
Somalia achieve a better day."
U.S. officials have long feared that Somalia, which has had no
effective government since 1991, is a desirable place for al-Qaeda
members to hide and plan attacks. The country is strategically located
on the Horn of Africa, which is only a boat ride away from Yemen and a
longtime gateway to Africa from the Middle East. No visas are needed
to enter Somalia, there is no police force and no effective central
The country has a weak transitional government operating largely out
of neighboring Kenya and the southern city of Baidoa. Most of Somalia
is in anarchy, ruled by a patchwork of competing warlords; the capital
is too unsafe for even Somalia's acting prime minister to visit.
Leaders of the transitional government said they have warned U.S.
officials that working with the warlords is shortsighted and dangerous.
"We would prefer that the U.S. work with the transitional government
and not with criminals," the prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, said in
an interview. "This is a dangerous game. Somalia is not a stable place
and we want the U.S. in Somalia. But in a more constructive way.
Clearly we have a common objective to stabilize Somalia, but the U.S.
is using the wrong channels."
Many of the warlords have their own agendas, Somali officials said,
and some reportedly fought against the United States in 1993 during
street battles that culminated in an attack that downed two U.S. Black
Hawk helicopters and left 18 Army Rangers dead.
"The U.S. government funded the warlords in the recent battle in
Mogadishu, there is no doubt about that," government spokesman
Abdirahman Dinari told journalists by telephone from Baidoa. "This
cooperation . . . only fuels further civil war."
U.S. officials have refused repeated requests to provide details about
the nature and extent of their support for the coalition of warlords,
which calls itself the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and
Counter-Terrorism in what some Somalis say is a marketing ploy to get
But some U.S. officials, who declined to be identified by name because
of the sensitivity of the issue, have said they are generally talking
to these leaders to prevent people with suspected ties to al-Qaeda
from being given safe haven in the lawless country.
"There are complicated issues in Somalia in that the government does
not control Mogadishu and it has the potential for becoming a safe
haven for al-Qaeda and like-minded terrorists," said one senior
administration official in Washington. "We've got very clear interests
in trying to ensure that al-Qaeda members are not using it to hide and
to plan attacks." He said it was "a very difficult issue" trying to
show support for the fledgling interim government while also working
to prevent Somalia from becoming an al-Qaeda base.
A senior U.S. intelligence official, who also spoke on condition of
anonymity, said it was a "Hobbesian" situation -- that the
transitional government operating from Kenya was in its "fifteenth
iteration" and that it, too, was a "collection of warlords" that
played both sides of the fence. The official said that it presented a
classic "enemy of our enemy" situation.
The source said Somalia was "not an al-Qaeda safe haven" yet, adding,
"There are some there, but it's so dysfunctional." U.S. officials
specifically believe that a small number of al-Qaeda operatives who
were involved in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi
and Tanzania are now residing in Somalia.
Analysts said they were convinced the Bush administration was backing
the warlords as part of its global war against terrorism.
"The U.S. relies on buying intelligence from warlords and other
participants in the Somali conflict, and hoping that the strongest of
the warlords can snatch a live suspect or two if the intelligence
identifies their whereabouts," said John Prendergast, the director for
African affairs in the Clinton administration and now a senior adviser
at the nongovernmental International Crisis Group. "This strategy
might reduce the short-term threat of another terrorist attack in East
Africa, but in the long term the conditions which allow terrorist
cells to take hold along the Indian Ocean coastline go unaddressed. We
ignore these conditions at our peril."
"Are we talking to them and doing some of that? Yes," said Ted Dagne,
the leading Africa analyst for the Congressional Research Service. "We
fought some of these warlords in 1993 and now we are dealing with some
of them again, perhaps supporting some of them against other groups.
Somalia is still considered by some as an attractive location for
The issue of U.S. backing came to the forefront this winter when
warlords formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and
Counter-Terrorism after a fundamentalist Islamic group began asserting
itself in the capital, setting up courts of Islamic law and building
schools and hospitals.
Soon after, the coalition of warlords were well-equipped with
rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and antiaircraft guns, which were
used in heavy fighting in the capital last week. It was the second
round of fighting this year, following clashes in March that killed
more than 90 people, mostly civilians, and emptied neighborhoods
around the capital.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council this month, the world body's
monitoring group on Somalia said it was investigating an unnamed
country's secret support for an anti-terrorism alliance in apparent
violation of a U.N. arms embargo.
The experts said they were told in January and February of this year
that "financial support was being provided to help organize and
structure a militia force created to counter the threat posed by the
growing militant fundamentalist movement in central and southern Somalia."
In March, the State Department said in its terrorism report that the
U.S. government was concerned about al-Qaeda fugitives "responsible
for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es
Salaam and the November 2002 bombing of a tourist hotel and attack on
a civilian airliner in Kenya, who are believed to be operating in and
The United States relies on Ethiopia and Kenya for information about
Somalia. Both countries have complex interests and long-standing ties
and animosities in the country. In December 2002, the United States
also established an anti-terrorism task force in neighboring Djibouti,
with up to 1,600 U.S. troops stationed in the country.
Africa researchers said they were concerned that while the Bush
administration was focused on the potential terrorist threat, little
was being done to support economic development initiatives that could
provide alternative livelihoods to picking up a gun or following
extremist ideologies in Somalia. Somalia watchers and Somalis
themselves said there has not been enough substantial backing for
building a new government after 15 years of collapsed statehood.
"If the real problem is Somalia, then what have we done to change the
situation inside Somalia? Are we funding schools, health care or
helping establish an effective government?" Dagne said. "We have a
generation of Somali kids growing up without education and only
knowing violence and poverty. Unless there is a change, these could
become the next warlords out of necessity for survival. That's perhaps
the greatest threat we have yet to address."
Somalis far from the factional fighting in Mogadishu said they were
waiting for anyone to help ease their destitute lives during the worst
drought in a decade.
In Waajid, a dusty town about 200 miles northwest of the capital,
thousands of villagers have left their farms for squalid camps,
searching for water and living in open, rocky fields under low-lying,
fragile shelters of sticks and rags that look like bird's nests.
Many people here say they feel that the United States has ignored
Somalia since the failed 1993 military intervention. Today many
Somalis said they regret that chapter in their history and thank the
United States, the largest donor of food and funding for water trucks
during this season's drought.
However, they said that news that the U.S. government was talking with
warlords has awakened feelings of resentment.
"George W. Bush, we welcome the Americans. But not to back warlords.
We need the U.S.A. to help the young government," said Isak Nur Isak,
the district commissioner in Waajid. "We won't drag any Americans
through the street like in 1993. We want to be clear: We don't want
only food aid, but we do want political support for the new
government, which is all we have right now to put our hopes in. We
can't eat if everyone is dead."
Wax reported from Waajid, Somalia, and Nairobi. DeYoung reported from
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