(TMU Op-Ed) — Why is the United States currently at war in Somalia? This question is barely mentioned or discussed in the current media landscape. If we did have an honest and transparent media, the question of Somalia would be discussed at length and not in isolation, either. It would be talked about in a broader context of U.S.-led and backed wars in the region, which not only kill civilians on a rampant basis, but appear to be adding fuel to the fire of terrorism as opposed to extinguishing it.
According to a recent report released last week by the Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs Costs of War project, as long as the U.S. continues to target the terrorist group al-Shabaab with counterinsurgency tactics which have been commonplace throughout the U.S.-led war on terror, the strategy will fail.
“The past several decades of U.S. intervention in Somalia produced violent destabilization, dysfunction, and uncertainty, creating refugee outflows and terrorist networks against which the U.S. is currently tightening its security cordons,” the report states.
The report further notes that al-Shabaab is not simply a terrorist group in the way it is typically portrayed in the media and through official U.S. policy, but also has its roots in a local resistance movement against foreign interventionism.
This conundrum was brilliantly explained by journalist Glenn Greenwald three years ago when he wrote:
“Since 2001, the U.S. government has legally justified its we-bomb-wherever-we-want approach by pointing to the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), enacted by Congress in the wake of 9/11 to authorize the targeting of al Qaeda and ‘affiliated’ forces. But al Shabaab did not exist in 2001 and had nothing to do with 9/11. Indeed, the group has not tried to attack the U.S. but instead, as the New York Times’ Charlie Savage noted in 2011, ‘is focused on a parochial insurgency in Somalia.’ As a result, reported Savage, even ‘the [Obama] administration does not consider the United States to be at war with every member of the Shabaab’.”
We could find parallels with many terrorist groups across the globe who have similar complicated histories, yet all are painted with the same brush by the U.S. government. As Four-Star General Wesley Clark once said in an interview with Democracy Now!, “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”
This is not unknown to the U.S. government. As frustrating as this is, it seems as though the American (and global) public deserve some answers as to why the U.S. continues a tried-and-true strategy which kills civilians left, right and centre and only aids in creating more terrorists in the process, further putting more innocent people at risk in the long term.
Earlier this year, Amnesty International investigated just five military strikes out of a possible 100 carried out since March 2017 under the Trump administration and found that the strikes resulted in at least 14 civilian deaths. Amnesty suggested that these attacks likely amounted to war crimes, even while the U.S. government was echoing a nonsensical claim that it had killed zero civilians in Somalia.
One farmer in a Somali village told Amnesty “we did not expect the world to be silent.” However, it isn’t that the world is silent—it’s our media paradigm that sees no added benefit in exploring the downside to prosecuting endless and pointless wars which endanger civilian lives in foreign countries across the planet.
“The ‘war on terror’ has been a terrorist-creating system from its origins, not just Somalia,” public intellectual Noam Chomsky told the Mind Unleashed. “Before the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan-Iraq, al-Qaeda was confined to tribal areas in Afpak. Now its offshoots are all over the world and ineradicable.”
What, therefore, is the geopolitical significance of Somalia, particularly to U.S. interests? Why is it worth pursuing this agenda, given the price the Somali people are forced to pay?
According to the Costs of War report’s author, Catherine Besteman, this is “of course, the million dollar question”—albeit, a “complex and multi-layered” one.
“Analysts writing about all parts of Africa have been arguing that the perpetration of counterinsurgency in the global war on terror has had the result of spreading rather than reducing insurgencies in Africa,” Besteman explained to the Mind Unleashed.
“There is a certain automation to U.S. foreign policy in the form of a default to militarism and military-linked understandings of security that is hard to resist, and which makes alternatives, like negotiations, nearly impossible. Somali analysts of Al Shabaab have been calling for negotiation for years, making very powerful arguments, but the rhetoric of ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists’ remains, it seems hegemonic.
Also, from the Somali side, the war is great for business because of the millions invested in Somali to train and equip security forces, but the understanding that local security forces may not actually share the identical objectives of the U.S. military isn’t as well developed as it might be, something we’ve seen in West African contexts as well. I think that the almost hysterical language of Islamophobia leaves an imprint that is hard to transcend. And the willing involvement and allyship of Ethiopia and Kenya in interventions in Somali carry their own logics as well, even as they align with the goals of the U.S. security state.”
If we want to ever eradicate the global terrorist threat, there can be no doubt that we should strongly alter the very course that we’re on. Besteman’s report, publicized in a recent article by the Guardian, are definitely a step in the right direction toward instigating a global conversation about what the U.S. military is continuing to do in places like Somalia, and at what human cost.