Operation Dung Beetle: The US Partnership With Somali Warlords

Abukar Arman, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Sun, 2006-06-04 03:00

Somalia is on the verge of sinking deeper into the abyss of anarchy and perpetual bloodshed and the Bush administration might have a role.

As the latest factional fighting in Mogadishu has grown more violent — claiming the lives of hundreds of mostly unarmed civilians and causing thousands more to flee their homes for safety — the US is said to be in the center of this long-burning ring of fire. This time, the US is in partnership with a group of collaborative warlords who, many believe, kept the political fire burning for over a decade.

In a reinvention of convenience, these warlords now call themselves the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism and claim to be fighting a US-sanctioned “global war on terror”. In this particular round, against a Somali fundamentalist Islamic group known as “The Islamic Courts” who has been asserting themselves in various localities in southern Somalia by setting up courts, building schools and hospitals, and providing various social services to locals, though other reports blame them for working against minority groups, and for orchestrating a clan-based systematic land grab in the fertile region of Lower Shabelle.

The Bush administration is believed to be after the leader of the aforementioned Islamic group who is said be the founder of Al-Itihad Al-Islami. However, many wonder, at what cost? Is this a case of recklessly pouring fuel onto a raging forest fire in order to capture a panther?

And is the Bush administration embarking on yet another foreign policy disaster, which could inspire more Anti-Americanism and perhaps terrorism, in cahoots with some of the most despised Somali warlords?

The US has been secretly supporting select warlords in Somalia since 2002. According to John Prendergast, senior advisor at the International Crisis Group, an independent policy organization based in Washington, “They don’t provide weapons, but they provide the cash, which is easier anyway”.

The US policy, according to Prendergast, is focused too heavily on “covert military intervention, rather than attempting to restore Somalia’s economic and political infrastructure” — something that the Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has been begging for. The current US involvement is “Cold War-style diplomacy at its worst...It just ends up throwing gasoline on the fire,” he adds.

On the other hand, in its most recent report to the UN Security Council early last month, the Monitoring Group on Somalia — the watchdog committee mandated to oversee the effectiveness of the UN arms embargo (Resolution 733) — asserted that lethal weapons and military hardware continue to flow into Somalia “like a river” and that they reach all fighting factions.

And while the report names several countries as violators of the arms embargo, it is the one that is omitted out of the report that got most of the attention. The Monitoring Group reported that it was investigating covert “financial support” to an alliance of warlords by an unnamed country — this country is widely believed to be the US.

While the Bush administration would not confirm or deny, they have no problem saying that the US is “working across a spectrum of Somalis to make sure that Somalia isn’t a safe haven for terrorism” as did State Department spokesperson, Sean McCormack, recently.

Upon its formation last year, TFG, mindful of its frailty, has requested a peacekeeping army from the so-called front-line states that include several neighboring states. This was a controversial proposition that was opposed by the majority of Somalis in the homeland and the Diaspora who preferred the deployment of an international peacekeeping force (excluding the front-line states) that is led by the US.

Among the civil societies who supported the latter proposition was the Washington-based Pan-Somali Council for Peace and Democracy — the largest Somali advocacy organization in the Diaspora — who issued an open letter to the US State Department and the UN.

In hindsight, this was an opportune time for the US to help end anarchy in Somalia and prevent it from becoming a haven for global terrorism. Alas, in what seems to be another episode of foreign policy schizophrenia, the Bush administration opted to avoid the legal channels altogether and forge a partnership with blood-soaked criminals!

That being the case, it is worth noting that in Somali warlord politics there is a widely practiced game that has already rendered 15 successive peace agreements null and void. The game is won by those who prove mastery in deception, destruction, and in perpetuation of mayhem. We can appropriately call it the Floating Dung Beetle.

“Keenso caanaha aan Doorshaan kaaga ridee” (bring your fresh glass of milk, so I can drop a dung beetle in it) is an ominous phrase coined by one of Somalia’s most conniving and indeed vicious warlords as his fellow “reformed” warlords were negotiating peace in Kenya. Needless to say, the phrase became the metaphor that captures the warlord mentality.

In the meantime, the US seems to rollout its own version of the game — Operation Dung Beetle — and an attitude that asserts: Let us see on whose fresh milk the dung beetle will fall!

Abukar Arman is a freelance Somali writer, a council member of the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio, and a co-founder of the Pan-Somali Council for Peace and democracy.

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