From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Dec 03 2008 - 16:34:08 EST
In Somalia, U.S. Fights Covert War On Terror
All Things Considered,
December 3, 2008 ·
In the U.S. war on terror, countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan generate headlines, but there's scant mention of the Horn of Africa and, in particular, Somalia. The African nation has been in the news recently because of piracy on the high seas, but it's also considered a front in the terror war.
Somalia has been buffeted by war for years, and American policy has actually contributed to the unrest, says Paul Salopek, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with the Chicago Tribune who is examining America's hidden military operations in Africa.
Salopek says the U.S. tacitly supported an invasion of Somalia in late 2006 to sweep out of power the Islamic Courts Union, which he calls a Taliban-like militant movement.
"What's happened over the last two years is the policy seems to have backfired," Salopek tells NPR's Michele Norris. "We are now ending up with a country that was a failed state to begin with in more chaos and more lawlessness than ever."
Islamic militants have taken over the southern part of Somalia and have moved to the outskirts of the capital, Mogadishu, Salopek notes. And he says the U.S. military presence is invisible.
"That's one of the most frustrating and difficult things to grapple with as a reporter in Somalia," he says. "Because we simply aren't there."
In 1993, the U.S. participated in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in which 18 American service members were killed. The notorious "Black Hawk Down" incident - depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down - caused the U.S. to go underground, says Salopek.
"In a large part, it's a covert war," he says.
But Salopek notes that based on his conversations with military analysts, the "policy so far seems to be failing."
Although the U.S. killed a major Islamic militant in May, Salopek says it's not clear whether other such strikes have been successful. "The other five missile strikes that I know of - it's very difficult to say who was killed and who wasn't," he says.
"The end result is that we have more polarized and a more radicalized insurgency than we had two years ago," Salopek says. "A lot of analysts would argue that this standoff war, this far-away war, has backfired on us."
He says his reporting has unearthed "allegations that actual al-Qaida operatives - people associated with bin Laden - are taking refuge in Somalia today because of its lawless condition."
So U.S. officials are trying a new approach. Through the U.S.-African military command, or AFRICOM, the Pentagon and State Department are getting troops to do humanitarian work to appeal to local populations.
"You have soldiers in uniform building schools, repairing clinics, vaccinating nomad cattle even," he says. "This is a laboratory for a new soft-power approach in the post-Bush years for trying to tamp down terrorist problems before they occur - in other words, prevent recruitment by helping vulnerable Muslim populations."
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