US moving closer to attack on Somalia

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Crescent International

Ramadan 11, 1423 2002-01-16


by Crescent International (World, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 22, Ramadan, 1423)

The US and its allies have intensified military activities in Somalia and along its 2000-mile coastline to prevent ‘al-Qaeda terrorists’ from finding refuge or setting up new bases there, according to American officials. But the scale of the military preparations, the nature of the deals US officials have struck with rival forces, and the involvement of Ethiopia suggest that the plan goes much further. And, as Washington’s alignment with Sudan’s Christian neighbours indicates, that strategy is to fight Islamic movements.

The Pentagon has recently increased the number of marine corps units in the Arabian Sea. Germany is also sending ships to the Somali coast and the Arabian Sea. Reconnaissance flights over Somalia have also increased, and France and Britain have also sent planes. In the first week of January flights went up from one or two to four or five daily.

According to media reports, US “navy P-3 planes flying out of a base in Oman” have been used to carry out the main aerial-reconnaissance effort. Their main task is to take photographs of “suspected Qaeda sites”, the reports say, adding that the photographs can show changes in numbers of trainees or vehicles arriving at or leaving sites.

Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, has refused to say whether these activities mean that an invasion of Somalia is imminent, but he spoke about the presence of al-Qaeda there: “we know there have been training camps there and that they have been active over the years and that they go inactive when people are attentive to them.” Other officials say that no decision has been made to take specific action, but insist that Washington is determined to prevent al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups from using Somalia as a safe haven.

The Americans are not only after alleged ‘al-Qaeda terrorists’ in Somalia, but are also determined to dispose of local Islamic groups, which they claim are linked to al-Qaeda and have received support from Usama bin Ladin. The Bush administration believes that it has successfully tarred al-Qaeda and bin Ladin with the brush of terrorism, and therefore that it can target Islamic movements said to have ties with them without being accused of an anti-Islam strategy. Bush has already put al-Ittihad on the list of terrorist groups, and has frozen the assets of al-Barakah, one of Somalia’s biggest business groups.

According to a report in the London Sunday Times on January 6, there are up to 100 “al-Qaeda terrorists said to be operating in Somalia already” who are linked to al-Ittihad al-Islami. Vincent Cannistraro, the CIA’s former head of counter-terrorism, claims that the heavy naval patrol of the Somali coast cannot keep them out. “Al-Qaeda terrorists could easily be hidden away in Mogadishu,” he said; “despite heavy naval patrols they could be entering in small fishing vessels and dhows.”

Somalis, unlike Muslims elsewhere, have no sectarian divisions. Like Muslims anywhere, they are likely to sympathise with fellow Muslims being hunted down by ‘infidels’. But they are also strongly polarised along clan-lines: they have been unable to form a national government since the overthrow of Said Barre, military dictator, more than a decade ago. Barre’s divisive policies, the clan-based response to his rule by the opposition groups overthrowing him, and the decade-long absence of central government have made this polarisation worse.

So it is difficult for them to organise viable and radical organisations that cut across clan lines. The alleged march of Islamic fundamentalism is a myth that the US and its allies promote to justify their intervention in Somalia. The transitional government has made strong efforts to convince Washington that there are no al-Qaeda bases or training sites in Somalia, and that al-Ittihad al-Islami is not a “terrorist organisation”. US officials have brushed all this as an inconvenient irrelevance. And when a government delegation tried to visit Washington and deliver a formal letter to president George W Bush to explain that there is no need for US military intervention, the delegation were refused US entry visas.

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