Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pentagon to Increase Military Presence Around Somalia

Pentagon to Increase Military Presence Around Somalia

Policy review examines options to supposedly fight piracy

by Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
News Analysis

In the aftermath of the killing of 3 Somali teenagers by the United States Navy on April 12, several agencies met on April 17 to conduct a review of military and foreign policy towards this Horn of Africa nation. Representatives from the State Department, the Pentagon and the Justice Department have outlined a series of options to ostensibly fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

It was announced on the same day of the meeting that the U.S. would fund the security forces of the new Somalia government which was established earlier this year. The Obama administration's Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Phillip Carter stated that the president was going to focus on longterm security issues in Somalia and at the same time end piracy off the shores of the country.

During the highly publicized seizure of the Captain of a US-flagged Danish-owned cargo vessel, the Maersk Alabama, the United States sent three warhsips into the Indian Ocean. Plans are underway to escalate the Naval presence in the region in order to provide escorts for ships travelling the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

Other options being considered include the placing of military personnel on individual ships and the imposition of a blockade of Somali towns which the U.S. claims are bases for piracy operations. In addition, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has called for the seizure of assets of those designated as pirates operating off the coast of Somalia.

"These pirates are criminals, they are armed gangs on the sea. And those plotting attacks must be stopped," Clinton said in Washington. She also called for "going after" bases where pirates are operating and developing methods to "explore ways to track and freeze" money paid as ransom to pirates.

However, the U.S. and other countries have been building up its Naval presence in the Gulf of Aden for many months. According to an Associated Press article published on April 18 "The United States is a major contributor to an international anti-piracy patrol called Task Force 151. The task force is part of a contingent of some two dozen warships from a number of countries, including the European Union, China and Russia, that patrol the area." (AP, April 18)

This same above-mentioned article on the U.S. military presence in the region, also says that "Helicopters and airplanes were at the ready during the Maersk Alabama standoff, and the Navy has been gathering information about the pirates through P-3 patrol aircraft and unmanned drones."

Other tactics being considered by the Pentaton is the "Increased use of drones and other surveillance tools is one option. Another air option is using airborne assaults on pirate vessels and on-land lairs. Submarines might also be used to collect information about pirate movements."

Some Pentagon officials want to also engage in land operations against people targeted as pirates. A combination of both attacks on land and the tracking of people in the waters would require coordination between the U.S. Army, Marines and Navy.

French commandos have carried out a number of raids against pirates who have taken control of vessels in the region. In early April, a 28-year-old French civilian died during a gun battle when the military took control of a ship being held by the Somalis.

On April 16, the European Union indicated that it was boosting its so-called "anti-piracy fleet" off the Somalia coast. Up to 11 ships, including an addition of three Swedish frigates, were be deployed beginning in May.

Nonetheless, European Union officials are saying that "the U.S. wouldn't find many allies if it tried to coordinate commando operations to save hijacked ships. 'We don't want bloodbaths.'"(Inside Somalia, April 18)

Such U.S. proposed military actions could result in the deaths of many innocent people. Jason Alderwick, a martime-defense analyst for the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, says that "Terrorists, tourists, fisherman, pirates, they all look the same until the last moment." (Inside Somalia, April 18)

In regard to the legal status of Somalis captured and charged with piracy, the U.S. has said that it will proseucte the Somali teenager captured during the standoff invovling the Maersk Alabama. Abde Wale Abdul Kadhir Muse, 16, was brought to New York for a court appearance on April 21. He will be tried as an adult under a slave-era law developed in the United States.

The French government, which says that it has captured 11 Somalis involved in piracy, are currently questioning them in Paris jails.

In response to the increased attention on the situation in the waters off the coast of Somalia, the United States, Britain and European Union have all signed agreements to allow for piracy suspects to be turned over to Kenya for trial.

"Kenya has had a strong tradition of a solid Commonwealth legal system. There is a capacity and certainly they do have an ability (to try piracy cases)," said David Crane, a law professor at Syracuse University. Kenya is part of the Commonwealth of Britain and its former colonies. (South African Press Association, April 17)

Linking the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden is a shipping lane providing the shortest route between Asia and Europe. It is estimated that some 20,000 ships move across the sea lane annually. The Indian Ocean is also utilized for the shipment of commercial goods and military equipment from various parts of the world.

Somalis Face Increased Harrassment in the U.S.

Over the last several months, the FBI has conducted numerous investigations in the Somali community in the United States. Reports have surfaced in the corporate press that young Somali men have left the U.S. and returned to their home country.

The Justice Department has attempted to create suspicion around these movements, despite the fact that a new coalition government has been formed in Mogadishu which many Somalis feel may bring about political stability inside the country that has been without an internationally recognized government since 1991.

In the state of Minnesota, federal agents have been going to high schools, colleges and the state University and interviewing Somali nationals about the wherabouts of various young men. In response to these developments, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is requesting that colleges provide legal assistance to students who are being approached by the FBI.

At the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, political science and global studies major Ruqia Mohmamed was approached by two FBI agents seeking information about various young men as well as the leaders of a local mosque. Mohamed described the visits as "random and at the same time spooky." (Minnesota Daily, April 15)

The student said that the federal agents were "two young girls dressed casual, unlike those I see on TV." She said they came to her home with photographs of men who are supposedly missing as well as mosque leaders.

"They asked me about how [one of the two missing men from the University] used to dress and the mosques he attended," Mohamed said. "Mosques were built for prayers," Mohamed told the FBI agents and that "every Muslim goes to mosques." (Minnesota Daily, April 15)

Mohamad also reported that FBI agents showed up at her home on inauguration day January 20 and asked if she had information on anybody who was planning attacks on Washington. "We are Americans and we voted for Obama," she told the federal agents. "Why would we bomb his inauguaration?"

The president of the Somali Student Association (SSA), Fathi Gelle, has also been approached about the missing men in addition to the various activities engaged in by the organization. The University Police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner confirmed that they had urged the students to cooperate with the FBI.

Although Gelle was reminded by the police that she was under no obligation to speak with the FBI, she felt compelled to explain the character of the SSA. "But since I'm leader of the association, I felt I should educate them about SSA," she said. The association sponsors educational, cultural and religious activities.

Gelle said that she was questioned about the missing men and whether they were members of the SSA. "I told them they were members," she said. "Of course, they are Somalis."

In regard to her ordeal with the FBI she stated that it was "wrong that the FBI is approaching the students in the campus." She also told the Minnesota Daily that "students should not talk to them if they think they might say something that will haunt them later."

Implications for U.S. Actions Towards Somalia

The escalation of the numbers of U.S. Naval warships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean is designed to maintain a permanent presence in the region. There have been two failed efforts on the part of the United States to establish political control over developments in Somalia in recent years.

In 1992, during the concluding days of the George Bush, Sr. administration, thousands of U.S. troops were deployed to Somalia to supposedly provide humanitarian assistance to the country. However, over the next several months, hundreds of Somalis had been arrested and killed by U.S. military forces.

Somalis began to vigorously resist the presence of the United States Marines and other military forces under the banner of the United Nations. A series of battles between Somalis and the occupying troops resulted in the deaths of both U.S. and other U.N. forces during 1993. The United States and the United Nations withdrew completely from the country in 1994.

In 2006, when the Union of Islamic Courts began to stabilize the situation inside of Somalia, the George Bush, Jr. administration began to fund warlords opposed to the Islamic Courts in an attempt to undermine the efforts aimed at creating a new and more representative political system. When this failed, the U.S. encouraged the western-backed regime in Ethiopia to launch an invasion.

The invasion and occupation was met with strong resistance from the Union of Islamic Courts. The youth wing of the UIC, Al-Shabab, took the lead in forcing the Ethiopian troops to withdraw from the country in January 2009.

A new coalition regime incorporating elements from the Federal Transitional Government that was supported by Ethiopia and the U.S. and more moderate forces inside the UIC, was formed earlier in the year. However, the situation is still volatile because Al-Shabab and other organizations are demanding that the African Union troops (AMISOM) from Uganda and Burundi be completely withdrawn from the country.

This continuing struggle inside Somalia, coupled with the seizure of commercial vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, has prompted the U.S. and other imperialist states to step-up their presence in the region. Nonetheless, the presence of these Naval fleets will only further inflame tensions in the Horn of Africa and off its coast.

Anti-imperialists inside the United States must oppose this recent upsurge in pro-interventionist propaganda from the corporate media and the military. It is the U.S. presence that has created increased instability in Somalia over the last two years. Any effort to create peace and stability in the region must come from the Somali people themselves in conjunction with other African states throughout the region.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. He has been following developments in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa region for many years.

No comments: