Policy WATCH:
Somalia: New Era of Dysfunction and Dissonance
Uncoordinated and Self Interested Actions May Only Add to Somali Woes
When Elephants Fight...
©Somalia Report
When Elephants Fight...

Dysfunction seems to be a hallmark of Somalia’s recent history with uncoordinated and random events acting as tipping points that plunge Somalia into yet another era of misery. Black Hawk Down was a tiny but important "Black Swan", the pirating of the MV Faina another, and the Kenyan invasion promises to be the latest.

Instead of the typical violence, corruption, lassitude and despair seen in failed states, Somalia exhibits a fascinating mix of good and evil that cohabit the same timeframe and solution. If there is poverty, then there are pirates making tens of millions from simple ship grabs. If there is starvation, there are warehouses stocked high with food unable to be distributed due to violence. If there is drought, there are also floods that prevent delivery of water.

If industrious Somaliland is held up as the way forward for governance, there is the quasi pirate/criminal state of Galmudug to warn against factionalism and self interest. If the preferred international solution is the TFG, then clans and even neighbors like Kenya and Ethiopia are sure to get busy carving off chunks to protect their self interest. It almost appears impossible to find a consensus let alone a quorum on how to help the troubled nation.

An Engaging Policy of Disengagement

Despite what you hear or read, the US has been very active in and around Somalia since the 1998 embassy bombings. There are US contractors on the ground doing the Agency's work and there is a robust assassination program against al Qaeda. But Americans are to believe that we are not involved or interested in Somalia.

In the latest televised GOP political debate, a question regarding Somalia and al-Shabaab was asked by AEI analyst Katherine Zimmerman of candidate Ron Paul. His answer:

You mean al Qaeda? You have to understand who the al Qaeda really is. The - the al Qaeda responds in a very deliberate fashion. As a matter of fact, Paul Wolfowitz explained it very clearly after 9/11. He said that al Qaeda is inspired by the fact that we had bases in Saudi Arabia. So if you want to inspire al Qaeda, just meddle in - in that region. That will inspire the al Qaeda....They are quite annoyed with us. So if you drop - if you have a no - fly zone over Syria, that's an act of war. What if we had China put a no-fly zone over our territory? I don't think - I don't think we would like that."

So much for insight from future political leaders on Somalia and emerging threats.

Although Paul did not address the specific question of what can America do to prevent the of rise al-Shabaab in Somalia, he did try to answer America's "policy of disengagement".

“If you want to inspire al Qaeda just meddle in that region." The answer of course had nothing to do with question but it showed how the US views Somalia. We are "meddling" with some well oiled or predestined outcome, a view that is as untrue about Somalia as it is about any tiny dysfunctional failed state. The smallest push or assistance in the right direction has significant impact in Somalia.

Somalia is not just another troublesome dustbowl haven for terrorists. It is not a place that should be bombed by Predator drones but never actually officially touched by US combat boots. Somalia is a geo-strategic region that has major impact on the global economy, security and America's ambitions in the region. While many big thinking pundits focus on the Straits of Hormuz, they forget that with a modicum of military training and equipping Somali pirates could shut down traffic in the Gulf of Aden. The 25 mile wide Bab al Mandeb and Gulf of Aden can be just as strategic to the safety of global shipping as the 34 mile wide Straits of Hormuz.

The 40 or so Americans and two dozen Brits currently training and fighting in Somalia are just the tip of the terrorist iceberg for exported terrorism. Somalia, by its vast diaspora, sea and air access is a springboard for deadly skill sets into the Middle East, Asia, South Asia, Europe and the West. It is the region where the War on Terror began and will be mostly likely the last battleground for countries affected by exported jihadist violence. Perhaps the answer should have been, "If you want to defeat al Qaeda, just help in that region."

In a clear confirmation of the importance of the need to gain popular support, al-Shabaab's biggest political mistake was to block the desperately needed flow of western aid. As Kenya and Ethiopia enters towns, they find little if any resistance to their entry.

The brief exchange between researcher and political candidates seemed to reflect the American position on the most recent invasion debacle in Somalia.

Has one of Africa's least experienced armies been delegated to meddle on our behalf? Knowledgeable Somali watchers have a sense that either Kenya is America's canary in a the Somali coal mine or a dead duck. America's engagement with disengagement may mean there might not be a cavalry to come to Kenya's rescue if they are stuck.

A Comedy of Terrors

There appears to be multiple, competing agendas at play, none of them robust, few of them successful and none linked together. The diplomatic equivalent of a Marx Bros movie. For example, the fight against piracy has its onshore and off shore disconnect. JSOC anti terrorism activities in the region clearly define going after foreign jihadis versus Somalia ones. Governments and aid agencies routinely put plenty of plywood between ransom demands and their responsibility to protect their citizens from harm. Bifurcation and opposing goals rule.

The US has based its anti-terrorism intelligence gathering assets out of Nairobi for a dozen years but somehow the public is supposed to believe that the US embassy was caught flat-flooted when Kenya invaded Somalia on October 16. Even though Kenya presented their plans to the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson for US approval one year earlier.

The competing self interests, badly stated motivations and unaligned regional agendas seem custom made for disaster.

The recent Kenya incursion was pinned on defeating terrorists who had invaded Kenya to harm tourism and later, to help aid workers. In reality it appears to be plain old pirates turning to land based kidnapping were responsible. Pirates have no connection with al-Shabaab and less with Kenya efforts. Kenya immediately began blaming civilian casualties as a result of army attacks in refugee camps and at sea on al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab responded by killing more Kenyan's inside Kenya than Kenyan soldiers inside Somalia.

To add irony and more humor, Ethiopia then invaded. Firmly stressing that it supports Kenya and AMISOM’s mission while denying it had actually invaded. This would all be black comedy if used to write a script but sadly it is a very real strategy in the region to play off the lack of media coverage and public awareness. Note to budding scriptwriters: AMISOM was set up as a result of the chaos created by Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion and forbids Kenya and Ethiopia from participating.

The current invasion free for all set off a rapid fire, uncoordinated series of events that threatens to shift Somalia into a separate set of random problems rather than a coordinated outside effort to neatly solve things like the drought, governance, poverty and lack of security. Aid organizations are already complaining that the Kenya invasion (re-pitched by spokesman a few days after invasion to be a way to bring in aid to the Somalia people) is preventing them from delivering food and help. There is a disturbing pattern emerging here.

To keep the punch lines coming. yesterday Johnnie Carson cautioned Ethiopia, its proxy ally against al Shabaab against invading Somalia. The problem is he was three days too late. To add counterpoint, the European Union (EU) spoke out in support of the Kenya invasion. Making sure the three beat structure of comedy was respected, former President of Ghana and African Union special envoy for Somalia, Jerry Rawling urged Kenya and Ethiopia and whoever else was pounding on the IED and suicide vest loving jihadis to "not shut the door to combatant elements who would want to put aside their weapons and talk politics". Drum roll. Ba da boom.

Ethiopia at the same time denies its troops have invaded Somalia or are inside it’s borders while numerous eye witnesses report Ethiopian army units entering Balanbale district in Galmudug region in central Somalia.

Ethiopia in a clumsy attempt to conceal their invasion tasked government spokesman Bereket Simon to insist to Reuters that "This is absolutely false. The army is within the Ethiopian border. There is no intention to go back . Going “back” would also be a key talking point to the current president of Somalia, Sheik Sharif who fought the Ethiopians in 2007 and had to flee the country when pursued by U.S. and Ethiopian military. Another drum roll, Folks, please save the applause for the end.

The Fragmented Future

Even with Kenya government frequent flyer miles piling up due to frenetic shuttle diplomacy, a sense of disconnect and chaos should continue based on the latest discussions between invasion partners. The TFG reacted with horror to Kenya’s invasion but was quickly schooled to begrudgingly submit to the unwanted military probing of Somalia’s nether regions. The forced public show of unity is not going to magically remove Somalia's historically proven reaction to foreign military intervention.

The apparently, Post-It sized strategic planning used to launch Kenya’s untested army was bad enough. But the premise that launching 2000 troops into Jubaland to grab Kismayo would be enough to stabilize Jubaland is optimistic. Exactly what is required to "stabilize" the border region and prevent terror attacks from al Shabaab inside Kenya? The world waits patiently for the magic formula. Kenya has not even explained how it will hold Kismayo once invaded.

To add perspective Kismayo has barely a couple of hundred thousand Somali’s about half of Dadaab refugee’s camps. There are between a million and 3 million ethnic Somali’s in Kenya. Current counterinsurgency rule of thumb is around one security person for 250 residents. That is where AMISOM gets it's "12000" troop requirement estimates for Mogadishu and pencils out to around 800 peacekeepers just for Kismayo alone. This does not include the vast distances of Jubland and the border or AMISON shortfalls. 2012 is going to get interesting.

AMISOM is already complaining about being a few million light on its financial requirements just for Mogadishu. Both France and the U.S. have both publicly distanced themselves from the adventure.

The strategy makes no mention of how Kenya intends to destabilize the much larger refugee and illegal population of Somali’s inside Kenya and convince them to return home. Their crackdown's in Eastliegh and along the border have simply led to more violence inside Kenya.

On Saturday Kenya was defending their previous meetings in Addis Ababa to invite Ethiopians to join their foray. Something that has most observers on edge. Ethiopia’s rough handed invasion and occupation created al-Shabaab after the Islamic Courts were destroyed.

In an optimistic but completely bizarre comment, Kenyan military spokesman said Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir said, “Ethiopia is supposed to build (military) capacity in Somalia. That could apply to cross-border operations.” Apparently Kenya's view of Ethiopia is akin to telling Californian's that the Mexican Army will help with crime in Los Angeles.

On Thursday Kenya made an official request that the US provide intelligence and surveillance since it already has significant naval, air and special operations assets in the region. It appears that the American “Stand Off” position on hunting down al Qaeda terrorists in Somalia makes the more robust Kenya effort embarrassing. It was after all the US that equipped and trained Kenya’s army for the invasion.

A Clown Car Powered by Diplomatic Dissonance

Diplomats with their hectic schedules, can be excused for being behind the Somalia information curve. But not intelligence agencies. The United States maintains impressive assets inside Somalia allowing them to continue to conduct air strikes against al Qaeda targets, training bases and even convoys inside Southern Somalia. The same targets that un-smart aging Kenya air force bombs have promised to hit...sort of.

The U.S. has paid $700 million to support Kenya's military, and untold millions to arm and support AMISOM, They also previously supported Ethiopia’s incursions and dropped off cash to fund proxy forces to defeat al-Shabaab

Yet American diplomats have been steadfastly unimpressed by the Kenyan and now Ethiopian venture.

The US finds itself looking like a truculent spoil sport on one hand creating the dual track program to support essentially anyone who fought al-Shabaab and ignoring Kenya for doing what they did in Afghanistan but dared not do in Somalia. Pull out terrorism by it’s roots.

The US is now warning Ethiopia, the very same allies they used to clear out the Islamic Courts. To aid poignancy, the American backed moderate-ish Islamist President Sheik Sharif who was a senior member of the ICU now finds himself supported the return of Ethiopia to aid Kenya and biting his tongue as they cheerfully offer to join AMISOM, a de facto occupying army of foreign troops.

Confusion on Land....and Sea

The chaos is not confined to land. Today the UN reaffirmed its commitment to provide authorization for those cooperating with Somali Government to use all necessary means to combat piracy

This sweeping document provides "authorization for States and regional organizations cooperating with the Somali Transitional Federal Government to enter Somalia’s territorial waters and use “all necessary means” — such as deploying naval vessels and military aircraft, as well as seizing and disposing of boats, vessels, arms and related equipment used for piracy" Note the term "regional organizations" which could within the broad strokes of this mandate be anything from TFG-hired private security firms to government contracted repo man/bounty hunters.

This appeared to be unintentionally synced up with EU's announcement that due to fiscal problems they will have a problem finding navy ships for the region. This is also the same UN that is working overtime to shut down an indigenous government sponsored program in Puntland specifically set up to fight piracy on land using foreign contracted trainers while the U.S is aggressively promoting OK with foreign security guards on ships in the region.

Overarching all this call to foreign adventuring, profiteering and social engineering the UN continues to work against "the recruitment, use, financing and training of mercenaries would contribute to the eradication of these nefarious activities and thereby to the observance of the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations" It is difficult to chose between the term irony or hypocrisy when sorting out these competing activities within the same theater.

Lost amongst the current chaos seems to be the Kampala Accord (let alone the Djibouti Agreement) which sets a timetable for the Somali people to actually choose their own government and reap the benefits of what looked like a minor movement towards stability when al-Shabaab left Mogadishu.