Blowback in Somalia

open quoteIndha Adde is not simply a warlord, at least not officially, anymore. Nowadays, he is addressed as Gen. Yusuf Mohamed Siad, and he wears a Somali military uniform, complete with red beret and three stars on his shoulder. His weapons and his newfound legitimacy were bestowed upon him by the US-sponsored African Union force, known as AMISOM, that currently occupies large swaths of Mogadishu.

It is quite a turnabout. Five years ago, Indha Adde was one of Al Qaeda and the Shabab’s key paramilitary allies and a commander of one of the most powerful Islamic factions in Somalia fighting against foreign forces and the US-backed Somali government. He openly admits to having sheltered some of the most notorious Al Qaeda figures—including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania—and to deceiving the CIA in order to protect the men. (Fazul was killed in June in Mogadishu.)

“The CIA failed to convince me to work with them,” Indha Adde recalls of his meetings in Somalia, Kenya and Dubai with agency operatives beginning in 2004, when, he says, he met the CIA’s East Africa chief in the Emirates. “They offered me money, they offered funding for the region I was controlling, they offered me influence and power in Somalia through US cooperation, but I refused all those offers.” At the time, Indha Adde—like many Muslims around the globe—viewed the United States as “arrogant” and on a crusade against Islam. “Personally, I thought of even Osama [bin Laden] himself as a good man who only wanted the implementation of Islamic law,” he tells me at one of his homes in Mogadishu.

Yusuf Mohamed Siad was not always known just as Indha Adde. As one of the main warlords who divided and destroyed Somalia during the civil war that raged through the 1990s, he brutally took control of the Lower Shabelle region, which was overwhelmingly populated by a rival clan, earning him the moniker “The Butcher.” There are allegations that he ran drug and weapons trafficking operations from the Merca port. Then, as the religious and political winds began to shift in Somalia after 9/11, he remade himself into an Islamic sheik of sorts in the mid-2000s and vowed to fight foreign invaders, including rival warlords funded and directed by the CIA.

Perhaps more than any other figure, Indha Adde embodies the mind-boggling constellation of allegiances and double-crosses that has marked Somalia since its last stable government fell in 1991. And his current role encapsulates the contradictions of the country’s present: he is a warlord who believes in Sharia law, is friendly with the CIA, and takes money and weapons from AMISOM. There are large parts of Mogadishu that are not accessible without his permission, and he controls one of the largest militias and possesses more technicals (truck-mounted heavy automatic weapons) in the city than any other warlord.

While the United States and other Western powers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on arms, training and equipment for the Ugandan and Burundian militaries under the auspices of AMISOM, the Somali military remains underfunded and under-armed. Its soldiers are poorly paid, highly undisciplined and, at the end of the day, more loyal to their clans than to the central government. That’s where Indha Adde’s rent-a-militia comes in.

Over the past year, the Somali government and AMISOM have turned to some unsavory characters in a dual effort to build something resembling a national army and, as the United States attempted to do with its Awakening Councils in the Sunni areas of Iraq in 2006, to purchase strategic loyalty from former allies of the current enemy—in this case, the Shabab. Some warlords, like Indha Adde, have been given government ministries or military rank in return for allocating their forces to the fight against the Shabab. Several are former allies of Al Qaeda or the Shabab, and many fought against the US-sponsored Ethiopian invasion in 2006 or against the US-led mission in Somalia in the early 1990s that culminated in the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident.

Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed claims that Indha Adde and other warlords have sworn allegiance to the government, but it is abundantly clear from traveling extensively through Mogadishu with Indha Adde that his men are loyal to him above all else. President Sharif seemed almost detached from this reality when I met him at his offices in Mogadishu. “As more territory is gained, it will be easier to unite [the various militias] under one umbrella,” he says.

. . . .

Although there was certainly a small Al Qaeda presence in Somalia before the United States launched its operations—and Islamic militants did carry out assassinations, including the killing of four foreign aid workers in the relatively peaceful Somaliland region in late 2003 and early 2004—the actions of Qanyare and his fellow CIA-backed warlords gave the Islamic militants fodder for an effective propaganda and recruitment campaign.

Qanyare and his allied warlords engaged in a targeted kill-and-capture campaign against individuals they suspected of supporting Islamic radicals. “These people were already heinous warlords; they were widely reviled in Mogadishu. And then they start assassinating imams and local prayer leaders who had nothing to do with terror,” says Abdirahman “Aynte” Ali, a Somali analyst who has written extensively on the history of the Shabab and warlord politics. “They were either capturing them and then renditioning them to Djibouti, where there is a major American base, or in many cases they were chopping their head off and taking the head to the Americans or whoever. And telling them, ‘We killed this guy.’”

. . . .

The “US government was not helping the [Somali] government but was helping the warlords that were against the government,” Buubaa, the former foreign minister, tells me. Washington “thought that the warlords were strong enough to chase away the Islamists or get rid of them. But it did completely the opposite. Completely the opposite.”

. . . .

In the summer of 2006 the ICU, along with fighters from the Shabab, ran the CIA’s men out of town. “The warlords were ejected out of Mogadishu for the first time in sixteen years. No one thought this was possible,” recalls Aynte. From June to December 2006, the ICU “brought a modicum of stability that’s unprecedented in Mogadishu,” reopening the airport and the seaport. “You could drive in Mogadishu at midnight, no problem, no guards. You could be a foreigner or Somali. It was at total peace.”

. . . .

The Bush administration considered the ICU unreconcilable.

. . . .

“The US sponsored the Ethiopian invasion, paying for everything including the gas that it had to expend, to undertake this. And you also had US forces on the ground, US Special Operations forces. You had CIA on the ground. US airpower was a part of the story as well. All of which gave massive military superiority to the Ethiopians,” says Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization and a frequent adviser to the US military, including Centcom. “If there’s one lesson in terms of military operations of the past ten years, it’s that the US is a very effective insurgent force. In areas where it’s seeking to overthrow a government, it’s good at doing that. What it’s not shown any luck in doing is establishing a viable government structure.”

The US-backed Ethiopian forces swiftly overthrew the Islamic Courts Union and sent its leaders fleeing or to the grave. Many were rendered to Ethiopia, Kenya or Djibouti; others were killed by US Special Operations forces or the CIA. By New Year’s Day 2007, Prime Minister Gedi was installed in Mogadishu, thanks to the Ethiopians.

. . . .

“Every step taken by the US has benefited Al Shabab,” he told me. “What brought about the ICU? It was the US-backed warlords. If Ethiopia did not invade and the US did not carry out airstrikes, Al Shabab would not have survived so long, because they were outnumbered by those who had positive agendas.”

. . . .

Extrajudicial killings by Ethiopian soldiers were widely reported, particularly in the final months of 2007. Reports of Ethiopian soldiers “slaughtering” men, women and children “like goats”—slitting throats—were widespread, according to Amnesty International. Both Somali government and Ethiopian forces were accused of horrific sexual violence.

. . . .

If Somalia was already a playground for Islamic militants, the Ethiopian invasion blew open the gates of Mogadishu for Al Qaeda.

. . . .

The Ethiopian occupation began to wind down following an agreement signed in Djibouti in June 2008 between Sharif’s faction of the ARS and officials from the TFG. The “Djibouti Agreement” paved the way for Sharif to assume the presidency in Mogadishu in early 2009. To veteran observers of Somali politics, Sharif’s re-emergence was an incredible story. The United States had overthrown his ICU government only to later back him as the country’s president.

. . . .

When President Obama took office in 2009, the United States increased its covert military involvement in and around Somalia, as the CIA and JSOC intensified air and drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen, and began openly hunting people the United States alleged were Al Qaeda leaders. In September of that year, Obama authorized the assassination of Saleh Ali Nabhan, in his administration’s first known targeted-killing operation in Somalia. A JSOC team helicoptered into Somalia and gunned down Nabhan. JSOC troops then landed and collected the body. Earlier, in April, Obama had authorized JSOC to kill Somali pirates who had hijacked the Maersk Alabama, a ship operated by a major Defense Department contractor. But as the United States began striking in Somalia, the Shabab’s influence was spreading.

. . . .

By 2010 the Shabab was in control of a greater swath of Somalia—by a long shot—than the Transitional Federal Government, even though the TFG was supported by thousands of US-trained, -armed and -funded African Union troops. The Ugandan government essentially picked up where the Ethiopian government had left off, and in Mogadishu AMISOM forces consistently shelled Shabab-held neighborhoods teeming with civilians. While the United States and its allies began bumping off militant figures, the civilian death toll pushed some clan leaders to lend support to the Shabab.

. . . .

Under pressure from its paymasters to show that it had some control in Mogadishu, President Sharif’s government began turning to former ICU warlords for help. In parallel, Washington intensified its dealings with various regional power players and warlords.

By late 2010 the Obama administration unveiled what it referred to as a “dual-track” approach to Somalia wherein Washington would simultaneously deal with the “central government” in Mogadishu as well as regional and clan players in Somalia. “The dual track policy only provides a new label for the old (and failed) Bush Administration’s approach,” observed Somalia analyst Afyare Abdi Elmi. “It inadvertently strengthens clan divisions, undermines inclusive and democratic trends and most importantly, creates a conducive environment for the return of the organized chaos or warlordism in the country.”

The dual-track policy encouraged self-declared, clan-based regional administrations to seek recognition and support from the United States. “Local administrations are popping up every week,” says Aynte. “Most of them don’t control anywhere, but people are announcing local governments in the hopes that CIA will set up a little outpost in their small village.”

. . . .

the Shabab’s meteoric rise in Somalia, and the legacy of terror it has wrought, is blowback sparked by a decade of disastrous US policy that ultimately strengthened the very threat it was officially intended to crush. In the end, the greatest beneficiaries of US policy are the warlords, including those who once counted the Shabab among their allies and friends. “They are not fighting for a cause,” says Ahmed Nur Mohamed, the Mogadishu mayor. “And the conflict will start tomorrow, when we defeat Shabab.open quote (Read more)

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