We are slowly learning more about the U.S.’ true involvement in the Horn of Africa, two months after the Ethiopian government invaded Somalia and almost a year after what is commonly labelled a “CIA backed counter-terrorism coalition” sought to capture Mogadishu in a failed (and bloody) assault.

Michael Gordon and Mark Mazzetti report for the New York Times that Ethiopian cooperation with the U.S. was deep and familiar. Aside from the hitherto undisclosed use of an “airstrip in eastern Ethiopia,” American assistance also “included significant sharing of intelligence on the Islamic militants’ positions and information from U.S. spy satellites with the Ethiopian military.”

Ethiopia is led by Meles Zenawi, a man often called by his critics (both inside the country and in the wider world) “the Saddam Hussein of Africa.” The Reagan administration was happy to share usually restricted satellite surveillance information with Saddam, just as this administration has donated the U.S.’ roving eyes to Zenawi.

Moreover, U.S. officials also told the Times that a secret U.S. special operations unit called Task Force 88 was deployed within “in Ethiopia and Kenya, and ventured into Somalia.” Quite what the extent of this “venture” or how many Somalis died as a result of it, is not clear.

Whether the AC-130 planes, which carried out at least two deadly raids on Somali herdsmen during the invasion, flew from the Ethiopian airstrip is also unclear, but possible. This begs the question as to how long military assistance for the repressive Zenawi regime had been building. Gordon and Mazzetti report that “a collaborative relationship with Ethiopia…had been developing for years.” As part of this relationship, the article relates, “The Pentagon for several years has been training Ethiopian troops for counterterrorism operations in camps near the Somalia border, including Ethiopian special forces called the Agazi Commandos, which were part of the Ethiopian offensive in Somalia.”

So this must be seen as a U.S. invasion of Somalia and not simply a proxy war. U.S. involvement has been deep, crucial, long-term and, perhaps most importantly, hardly detected by the regional or international press or aid agencies and the UN in the area. This just illustrates how easy it has been for the U.S. to extend the remit of the Pentagon into regime change and other covert operations since 9-11 without any real scrutiny or checks.

Another interesting aspect of the invasion reported by the Times is the duplicity of the U.S. government, which asserted at the time that it had given no “tacit approval” to Ethiopia for the assault, although this now seems unlikely. Mazzetti and Gordon report that:

In interviews over the past several weeks, however, officials from several U.S. agencies with a hand in Somalia policy have described a close alliance between Washington and the Ethiopian government that was developed with a common purpose: rooting out Islamic radicalism inside Somalia.

The lies told by Bush administration officials over the Somalia affair have not yet been called and the Democrats have shown no interest at all in Somalia. While attention has been partially focused on limiting the President’s right to declare war on Iran without Congressional approval, he has declared war on Somalia and lied about it without Congress even deigning to discuss it. This is as much a Congressional failure as it is another Bush era scandal.

The new revelations from the Times leads to further questions about what has really transpired in the Horn of Africa over the past year. A conventional narrative has emerged which reads roughly as follows. In early 2006, the CIA financed a group of warlords to remove from power in Mogadishu the “Islamic Courts” movement which was expressing radical Islamist sentiments and was allegedly harboring al-Qaeda suspects in the 1998 embassy bombings. This then failed to dislodge the Courts as other warlords joined forces with the Courts and repelled the CIA backed militias. After that, the Courts extended their dominion into much of Somalia, reaching southwards to the Kenyan border and westwards towards Baidoa, where the Transitional Government sat. Ethiopia then moved in to protect the government, pledging that, as the Times relates, “if the Islamists attacked Baidoa, they would respond with a full-scale assault.”

After a bombing in Baidoa ripped through a government meeting (although not killing any of its leaders) attention became focused on the “Jihadist” orientation of the courts, and its own expansionist aims. Then, after an unusual UN report was issued claiming that the Courts had backing from Hezbollah and was being strengthened by arms imports and foreign jihadists, Ethiopia moved in to crush the Islamists. Somalia was liberated from foreign perversions and Islamic tyranny. But does this narrative resemble reality?

Perhaps, but there are many questions worth asking which are seemingly not posed by the press corps or by the “international community.” There have been no “al-Qaeda” suspects found in Somalia. The Kenya-Somali border, which was raked by American bullets, was sealed during the invasion and many captives were taken (including Swedes, Canadians, Americans and Brits) but none of these people have been linked to al-Qaeda. Instead, they are often either innocents abroad visiting relatives, travelling on business or genuinely supportive of the Islamic Courts which had, we must remember, restored stability to much of Somalia.

Then there is the role of the UN, whose November report on weapons shipments and the movement of Jihadists into Somalia was both overtly biased (to minimize the scale of Ethiopian and U.S. military transfers) while it made many allegations about the arming and personnel of the Courts which were immediately questioned by experts. Matt Bryden, of the International Crisis Group, for example, cautioned us, saying that “We need to treat many of these claims with caution until we see firm evidence.” [A fuller look at this report can be found here. In perhaps my favorite response to the UN report, the Lebanese Daily Star quoted a Hezbollah spokesman as calling it “incorrect and silly.”

According to UN sources, the report’s authors had “access to information from the intelligence agencies of the Security Council’s 15 current members, including Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States.” Both Britain and the U.S. have been strong backers of the Transitional Government and Ethiopia, casting doubt upon the reliability of their intelligence services in analysing the threat posed by the Islamic Courts.

Renewed allegations of the participation of internationally trained jihadists surfaced in February with a report in the Times (UK) which quoted UN sources as saying that “hundreds of Islamist fighters were flown, with Eritrean assistance, from Somalia to Syria and Libya for military training. Others were taken to Lebanon to fight with Hizbullah.” But even Israeli experts have made nonsense of these claims. As YNet reported, Dr Boaz Ganor of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism said that “This does not correspond to the information I have,” while “inaccurate information contained in the report could be the result of the investigation techniques used by UN committees, which “don’t use their own intelligence.”

“They either use open sources, or other sources,” Ganor explained. “Good Investigators know how to distinguish between real and false intelligence. When you base your intelligence on open sources, you have to take into account that you will be exposed to false sources,” he said, citing examples such as internet forums as examples of unsubstantiated information which should be viewed critically.

There is, therefore, the strong possibility that much of the information leading the UN and the media to see Ethiopia’s intervention in a favorable light was shaky at best. The narrative became that of a battle of western, secular forces against the broader Islamic world, which made it easy to overlook the very real violations of an existing UN embargo on Somalia by the Ethiopian government.

But it wasn’t solely the Ethiopian government which breached the embargo and plunged Somalia into renewed violence and instability. Far from it. As the Times report confirms, this was a long-term U.S. attack on Somalia. The report doesn’t mention potential reasons for this attack beyond the danger of “Islamic radicalism” but other commentators have pointed out the potential mineral and oil resources in the Horn of Africa as well as the strategic value of controlling the Somali coast, which is near a vital shipping lane (through the Red Sea) and could provide useful basing sites for the U.S. navy or its allies. [A good synopsis of this discussion can be found here

The ongoing efforts of Australian company Range Resources to begin exploration for oil have been documented by myself over the past year, as have allegations of violence attached to them. Range Resources has now partnered with the Canadian company CanMex, which is connected to Adolph Lundin, a Swedish-Canadian oil man who has useful connections with the Bush family.

Then we must go further back to summer 2006, when the Observer reported (itself using intelligence gleaned by newsletter Africa Confidential) that U.S. based private military companies had been seeking to organize an invasion of Somalia. The information about this is well known, and extraordinary. ATS tactical and Select Armor sought to involve the Ugandan government in a scheme to make an end-run around the UN embargo on Somalia by using Ugandan end-user certificates to purchase arms to be used inside Somalia, which was at that time off limits through international agreement. The aim was to affect “regime change” in Somalia while preventing “another Dien Bien Phu” and preventing meddling by “those fucks in the UN” (their exact words).

Again, this has been documented by GNN here in some depth. What is so extraordinary is the cast of characters (some connected to the 2000 election theft, others international horse breeders, some Fox News pundits and ex-Swift Boaters for truth). All of this has been ignored by the media in reporting the Ethiopian invasion. The MSM has preferred to report Ethiopia’s actions in a regional bubble, but all of the facts point towards a coordinated plan with the U.S. to affect a strategic regime change as part of the international War on/of Terror.

Finally, as far as this summary goes, we must revisit the extraordinary contract dealt out by the Transitional Government to TopCat marine, a company making speedboats for the U.S. coastguard (when it isn’t filling in bankruptcy forms). This $50 million contract, signed by a non-existent government with a company of dubious materiality itself, transferred nominal sovereignty over the Somali coast to a shadowy American company. Now we might see it as a preparatory move to smooth the transition of Somalia from a wild, untamed (free) coast to a stable, disciplined (corporate run) protectorate. This contract was signed amidst a burst of “piracy” incidents in 2006, which have oddly tailed off and themselves make interesting reading.

Now that we’ve regressed to the point at which the Courts appeared, and the Counter-Terrorism force failed to capture Mogadishu, is it possible to revise the coventional narrative describing Somalia’s recent history?

Perhaps, if only to inject a mighty dose of scepticism about the “invasion” to root out “radical Islamism” in Somalia. Were the Islamic Courts allowed to take control over much of Somalia, while Ethiopia planned its attack and the U.S. compiled its intelligence data to assist? Was the UN persuaded to the cause of Select Armor and ATS, going so far as to itself compile a “dodgy dossier” of second hand intelligence which provided a casus belli against the Courts? What exactly has the role of the private mercenaries been in all of this? How much have they earned, and who has paid them? Were they working with the Pentagon, as the leaked correspondence of ATS staffer Chris Farina suggested they would, or the CIA, which many believe tried to capture Mogadishu by proxy earlier in the year?

The revelations of Gordon and Mazzetti suggest that Somalia has been in the U.S. crosshairs for years while what we know about Select Armor and ATS suggests that Ethiopia was not the driving force behind the invasion. That was supplied by those who were paying the mercenaries, or providing their ideological support – and we don’t know for sure who they were or what that was.

What we can be fairly certain of though, is that Somalia has fallen victim to another neoconservative intervention and a remarkably successful one at that. The world has looked away or not hard enough at the Horn of Africa, as it has been militarized still further under U.S. direction. Now, with resurgent militias and an ongoing Ethiopian occupation, Somalia is peering anxiously into the future, like Bob Dylan’s Jokerman;

Freedom just around the corner for you
But with truth so far off, what good will it do.

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