[dehai-news] (Huffington Post) The US Role in Somalia's Calamity

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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Tue Dec 30 2008 - 09:04:53 EST

The US Role in Somalia's Calamity
Posted December 29, 2008 | 11:00 AM (EST)

Pirates have put Somalia back on the international agenda, but Somalia's
people have yet to receive as much protection as the international tankers
off-shore. The brutal, widely ignored conflict in Somalia has crept back
into the headlines only after spawning a massive humanitarian crisis and
Islamist extremism, as well as piracy. But to deal with these issues, the
Obama administration will have to break with failed policies that have
helped push Somalia into calamity.

Two years ago Somalia stood at a crossroads. After 16 anarchic years without
a government, a coalition of Islamic courts had taken control of the
capital, Mogadishu, bringing both ominously harsh rule and unprecedented
stability. But Somalia's powerful neighbor Ethiopia saw the rise of the
bellicose courts as a threat to its national security, and the Bush
administration accused the Islamic courts leadership of harboring terrorism
suspects -- including individuals suspected of plotting the 1998 US Embassy
bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. When Ethiopia intervened militarily to crush
the Islamic courts in December 2006, Washington supported its operation.

The last two years have been an unmitigated disaster for the people of
Somalia. The conflict pits the Ethiopian forces and Somalia's ineffectual,
internationally backed transitional government against a powerful but
fragmented insurgency. All sides have routinely committed war crimes and
serious human rights abuses. I have interviewed young girls raped by
militiamen from the transitional government; mothers whose children were cut
to pieces by indiscriminate Ethiopian bombardment; and common laborers shot
in the streets by insurgent fighters who saw them as unsupportive of their

Thousands of civilians have been killed, more than a million people are
displaced from their homes, and millions of people teeter at the edge of
famine. Aid workers, who had managed to assist Somali communities even
during the most lawless periods before 2006, have been the targets of dozens
of killings and kidnappings in 2008 and now watch helplessly from
neighboring Kenya as the situation spirals out of control.

America's most visible response to the crisis has been a series of air
strikes against terrorism suspects that have mostly killed civilians. The
air strikes--and the way in which US officials have ignored overwhelming
evidence of Ethiopian and transitional government war crimes -- have fueled
anti-American sentiment.

US policy not only has displayed a callous disregard for the basic human
rights of Somalis, but it has failed on its own terms, breeding the very
extremism it sought to eliminate. Drawing on widespread hostility to the
Ethiopian intervention and resentment of the abuses, insurgents loosely
grouped under the banner of a group called Al-Shabaab ("youth") have become
the most powerful military force on the ground. Al-Shabaab's leaders preach
a kind of Islamist extremism that had never managed to take root in Somalia
before the nightmare of the last two years. Meanwhile attacks at sea by
Somali pirates have grown, unchecked, a product of the lawless chaos that
prevails on land. Ethiopia says its battered military will soon withdraw,
leaving US policymakers desperate to empower relatively moderate Somali
opposition leaders to fill the vacuum.

The Somali crisis is also a regional problem. Tens of thousands of civilians
are fleeing into fragile Kenya, which now has the world's largest
concentration of refugees, and thousands more face abuses or even death on
dangerous journeys across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. And the unresolved
border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia continues to exacerbate
regional tension, with each government supporting opposing sides in Somalia.

The Obama administration has an opportunity to bring a fresh approach to
this escalating, complex crisis. It will have to weigh diplomatic
initiatives involving all the countries in the region, the viability of the
transitional government forces and peacekeeping forces in Somalia, and the
role of the United States military. Accountability for the serious abuses
that underpin both the suffering of Somalia's people and the growth of
violent extremism is only one element in these challenges, but it is
critical. It will mean publicly demanding accountability from all of the
parties responsible for war crimes on the ground -- including Ethiopia,
Washington's most important strategic ally in the region. The US
relationship with Ethiopia is important, but complacency toward war crimes
in Somalia will undermine US efforts to address the broader crisis.

There is no easy solution to Somalia, but Washington can show that it is
ready to address the challenge by quickly appointing a high-level US envoy
on the Horn of Africa and supporting a UN commission of inquiry to
investigate the most serious crimes. These steps cannot undo the damage
failed US policies have caused in Somalia but they would send the message
that the Obama administration is moving in a new and more principled

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