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US air and missile strikes target leaders of Somalia’s Islamic movement

M.A. Shaikh

On March 3, there was further evidence of the US's involvement in Ethiopia's occupation of Somalia, when a Tomahawk missile fired from a US submarine hit the town of Dobley in southern Somalia, five miles from the border with Kenya, destroying at least one house and injuring six people. It was the latest of a series of US attacks, although previous ones had consisted of attacks from the air. The Americans claimed that the attack was aimed at "al-Qaeda militants and other terrorists" gathered in the town. In fact, it was members of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and Shehab Youth organisation, its fighting force, that were holding a meeting at Dobley, which had fallen to Shehab a short time before the gathering.

The US insistence that the missile attack – the fourth known operation by US forces in Somalia since the Ethiopian invasion in December 2006 – was directed at al-Qa'ida terrorists is consistent with its position that the UIC is aligned with al-Qa'ida, ample evidence that this is not the case. Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, stressed that it was a "deliberate and precise strike" aimed at a specific target. "This attack was against a known al-Qaeda terrorist," he said. "As we have repeatedly said, we will continue to pursue terrorist activities and their operations wherever we find them."

According to Western newspaper reports and analysts, the specific target of the strike is believed to have been "Hassan Turki, the head of the hardline Shehab youth organisation – at a meeting of military Islamists," as a report in the Daily Telegraph (March 4) put it. This report was referring to the meeting held at Dobley the previous day and attended by the UIC and Shehab leaders, but it was unable to confirm that the attack had achieved its objective. Certainly neither the UIC nor Shehab has been reported as saying that any of their leaders or members had been killed; it is almost certain that if any leader had been killed they would have protested publicly and declared their determination to retaliate. The attack was, however, enough to drive them to step up their resistance to Somalia's interim government, which was imposed by the US and the invasion of the Ethiopian army that brought to an end the UIC's six-month rule in December 2006.

That the American missile-strike would lead to further instability was not in doubt, as it attracted Western and UN diplomats in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, and was later followed by clashes between clan militias supporting the interim government and the UIC. For instance, a Western diplomat in Nairobi quoted in the Daily Telegraph's report said that he had no doubt that the Americans would send their "big guns" in again. "We have not seen this kind of action from the Americans for some time," he said. "But the fact that they have sent the big guns once again is a clear message that they have not forgotten about Somalia."

However, none of the diplomats or their governments criticised the attack and some of them, particularly the UN envoy to Somalia, later called for support for the small number of African Union "peace-keeping" forces led by the Ugandan army. The UN even blamed the Somali people for their failure to end their differences, and backed the presence of the Ethiopian army, saying that they were part of the foreign peace-keeping forces in the failed state.

Clearly, the US government's confidence that it can get away with military attacks at chosen targets in Somalia is largely justified. All it has apparently to do is to claim that its targets belong to al-Qa'ida, which many Muslim rulers, whether allied to the US or not, consider to be a terrorist organisation, as shown by the resolution of the summit held in Dakar by the OIC on March 13. The resolution declared both al-Qa'ida and the Taliban to be terrorist organisations, and also backed the US war on Iraq and Afghanistan. Held only ten days after the American missile attack in Somalia, the summit did not even mention that country's dire state, let alone condemn the US’s repeated attacks on its territory and people.

However, though no one directly criticised or even mentioned the attack specifically, many reports – whether in the media or by charity organisations – showed how instability in Somaliaincreased after the missile strikes. Guillermo Bettocchi, the UN refugee agency chief for Somalia, for instance, told Reuters on March 14 that nearly 20,000 civilians flee the violence in Muqdisho (Mogadishu), the capital, every month, but that the situation is deteriorating. On March 18 Reuters also reported that at least ten people had been killed in gun-battles between rival clan-militias.

The reports on the worsening situation reflect well on the UIC's six-month rule in 2006, which brought stability to the country that was immediately destroyed after the invasion of the Ethiopian army and the imposition of an ‘interim government'. A report by the BBC World Service on March 14, which dealt with the serious piracy problem along Somalia's Indian Oceancoast, was even more favourable. The piracy stopped for four months when the UIC came to power, but began again soon after it was displaced.

But despite this, the US government and its Arab allies are determined to prevent the UIC from returning to power. In February, for instance, the Egyptian government arranged talks inCairo from which attempts were made to remove some of its members, though they only succeeded up to a point. The Saudi monarchy has also promised large sums of money to the interim government if it succeeds in establishing itself in power. As a report in the Economist on March 18 shows, Abdullahi Yusuf, the interim president, is anxious to persuade Riyadh to release the large sums of money it has pledged. The leaders and fighters of the UIC, however, are determined not to compromise its Islamic principles and to push the Ethiopians out ofSomalia, their country. So the struggle between the two sides is likely to go on for some time.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 37, No. 2

Rabi' al-Awwal 24, 14292008-04-01

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