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August 06, 2008


You weren't around when Von">http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2007/06/with_friends_li.html">Von was extolling this, and I went back at him various times, with no progress ever made at getting Von to ever admit this policy was anything other than positive. I'd like, as ever, to know what Von thinks now.

David Axe has spent a lot of time in Somalia and he says:

But before the A.U. can expand into Mogadishu’s most violent neighborhoods, the Ethiopians have to withdraw, Ugandan officers told me. The two armies have separate aims, separate methods and entirely opposed attitudes about civilian casualties. But they have the same sponsor. Something’s got to give.

What do you think of the AFRICOM mission, Eric? It sounds like it is applying some level of COIN doctrine as it attempts to strengthen capacity of African nations. But I agree that the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia was poor policy, and this post is a good dissection of a conflict that often gets overlooked.


I tend to agree with you with respect to AFRICOM. And obviously, Ethiopia-Somalia. Ethiopia-Somalia is a subject that I have been covering fairly regularly over the past 2 years or so. Other than Iraq, it's my other major foreign policy beat. I've probably written around 20-30 posts on the subject.


Von and I went back and forth numerous times back then as well.

Incidentally, the "Recent Comments" sidebar seems to be going wacky, consistently disappearing and appearing different comments depending on what thread you look at the sidebar from.

Plus ça change in the Horn of Africa. I suppose the current situation there is partly a legacy of US policy in the 70s in the same way that Afghanistan is a legacy of the 80s.

We allow our terrorism tunnel vision to blind us
Yes, the same way everything used to be all about communism. Seems like a problem of bureaucratic momentum/incentives.

What do you think of the AFRICOM mission, Eric? It sounds like it is applying some level of COIN doctrine as it attempts to strengthen capacity of African nations.
Africom seems to be quietly a hub of activity. I think it's centered near Tamanrasset in the Algerian Sahara, where they're supposed to have built up a pretty sizable operation away from the Western media. They've been busy interdicting "terrorist" logistics and personnel, apparently, I put "terrorists" in quotation marks because there's all sorts of outfits inhabiting the Algeria-Mali-Mauritania area with various melanges of commercial/political/ethnic agendas. I think the other main base is in Djibouti, where I suppose Horn of Africa ops are run?

To their credit, the Pentagon's intelligence assets are probably steadily accumulating across the Saharan-Sahel region. Call me a cynic, but I tend to believe the degree the government discusses these kinds of activities is in inverse proportion to their efficacy.

I'm not so critical of the whack-a-mole policy as it's hard to say --- if one accepts the premise that these groups are a serious national security threat -- what would be better. With Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has already taken over management of a good chunk of the region Brzezinski called the 'arc of crisis' back during the Carter administration, and I'm dubious that that's a sound long-term investment as it stands.

I think the other main base is in Djibouti, where I suppose Horn of Africa ops are run?

Yeah, AFRICOM is pretty much based out of Djibouti, and is expanding rapidly. However, it technically is still headquartered in Germany until later this year. I have some friends that have spent time over there. As for whack-a-mole, I think that's good for combatting piracy in international waters around the Horn of Africa, but whenever you've got local citizenry involved...I dunno.

Let's hope the next administration appreciates the interlocking regional rivalries...

if it's a McCain administration, maybe we'll get to see how well the "sit em down, look em in the eye, and tell em to 'cut the bullshit'" strategy works!

I'm not so critical of the whack-a-mole policy as it's hard to say --- if one accepts the premise that these groups are a serious national security threat -- what would be better.

See, that's why I tried to switch the terminology. Our policy hasn't really been "whac-a-mole" with respect to Somalia, it's more like Hulk see terrorist, Hulk Smash!!! Then try to whac.

Meaning: I doubt you could call Ethiopia's invasion (and our support thereof) whac-a-mole. It is, unfortunately, much more than that.

Plus ça change in the Horn of Africa. I suppose the current situation there is partly a legacy of US policy in the 70s in the same way that Afghanistan is a legacy of the 80s.

How so ?

Whack--not only the mole--but everything anywhere near the mole . . .

What I mean to say is that I'm not sure I understand how the idiotic choices of the 70's in the Horn of Africa are linked to the horrible consequences and the idiotic choices of the 2000's in the Horn of Africa.

Unless there's some counter-factual about the USSR forcing some kind of final settlement of the Ogaden question...

I agree with most of what you said. If only you knew what exactly happened behind the scenes, you will be more confused about the competency of foreign policy decision makers.

The decision and actions taken so far, are mind boggling and completely defy logic.
In the early 90's when UBL was hiding in Sudan, the main actors containing and frustrating his actions were Eritrea and Ethiopia. Both were staunch US allies, until a conflict developed with their common border.

Donald Rumsfeld in Eritrea

Initially US was playing the a neutral arbitrator role until UN border commission awarded most of disputed territory to Eritrea. This put the Ethiopian leader on dangerous grounds,as he has sacrificed more that 70,000 soldiers to take the disputed land. Despite Ethiopia flouting the UN decision, US decided to give diplomatic and financial support to Ethiopia, as it is much sizeable and its proximity to Somalia was deemed more important. This completely undermined the relationship with Eritrea and alarmed it to no end. Specially the one sided military aid that completely skewed the balance of power.

To exacerbate matters, the relationship deteriorated to hostility when Eritrea found out, of massive shipment of armaments purchase from North Korea, that was partially funded by US and breaking both US and UN sanctions.
It also accused US of skulduggery in the UN trying to manipulate the situation in favor of Ethiopia. This was proven correct when Bolton spilled the beans in his book.

UN despite Ethiopia's breaking of multiple resolutions and sanctions chose to look the other way, this includes invasion of Somalia,
atrocities in Ogaden , arms sanctions etc, while it was quick to accuse Eritrea via the its monitoring group reports, that Eritrea has 2000 boots in somalia, which turned to be false.

Eritrea completely alienated is playing my enemies enemy is my friend game that will only exacerbated the whole situation.
All this vilification toward Eritrea is not working, as it has completely lost trust on UN and the West, which it sees as completely immoral on the border issue, has cut it self off.

Part of the solution by the next administration to this sorry mess should be, the underestimated but much needed enforcement of the UN border commission decision, and arm twisting both countries to comply. They need to understand Eritrea carries much bigger stick that most think.

I have submitted a longish comment, that is waiting for you approval.

Good post, Eric: it's a useful reminder of the ongoing strife still destabilizing the Horn of Africa: and not only that; free from gratuitous snark at conservatives' hyperventilating over Ethiopia's "smashing success" in their invasion of Somalia!

However, Thomas-Jensen does bring up one rather obvious question: an one to which there is no immediate answer (or even, AFAICT, much discussion of at all outside of a few FP blogs) - to wit:

"...a strategy to deal with the root of violent extremism in the region — the 18 years of political unrest and bloodshed in southern Somalia."

What would - what could - such a strategy look like? From a political standpoint, most of Somalia has been a "failed state" for years: and there seem to be no (few, anyway) in-country institutions around which to build the structures of a functioning government (well, since the ICU got trashed, that is). And little impetus to create them.

tomorrow marks the ten-year anniversary of the US embassy bombings in Kenya.

Just as yesterday was the seventh anniversary of Bush being given the 'Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.' briefing.

"Okay, you've covered your ass now."

A CIA director with integrity would have offered his resignation right that minute, if only to get the pouty little jerk to sit up straight and put even a minimal amount of effort into presidentin'.

Backing the Ethiopian invasion was pouring fuel on the fire. AFRICOM is naked military imperialism. As is carving the world up into COMs in the first place, with the home country just another command.

By what right?

Yet, instead of conducting a careful, narrowly tailored counterterrorism operation in Somalia

What would be a narrowly tailored counterterrorism operation?

Maybe we should just stop butting into everyone else's country. Would we tolerate Somalis carrying out operations in the US? How about Iranians funding regime-change ops in the US?

Maybe it's time we stopped acting like an empire.

"Maybe we should just stop butting into everyone else's country."

True. But we're not the only ones who butt in. There was that whole September 11th thing, and a whole bunch of other events, after all, as well. While "terrorism" has been unbelievably exaggerated as a threat, and certainly is in no way anything remotely resembling an existential threat, it does exist, and isn't susceptible just to soft power and being nice.

What Gary said.

Simon: Thanks for the comment. I was aware of the general sketch of the Ethiopia/Eritrea conflict, and the fact that Ethiopia has been flouting the UN decision re: the border dispute.

In fact, I usually point this out when someone argues that Ethiopia is simply acting to carry out the UN's desire by reinstalling the TFG (which the UN and AU recognize).

However, you have certainly enhanced my understanding, so thanks.

What would - what could - such a strategy look like?

This is a good question, with no easy answer. I would say that the first step would be to stop aiding Ethiopia's ongoing effort to destabilize it's neighbor and rival.

Then try to build positive momentum after that. Which, unfortunately, the ICU was building before Ethiopia intervened to "help."

OT: but in other foreign news: it looks like one of our main "friends" is getting himself set for some possible trouble:

Musharraf faces impeachment

At some point in 2006 (I think), I saw a 60 Minutes type of program on French TV about the ICU.

The interesting thing was that every ICU ranking member they talked to spent a lot of time downplaying the Al-Qaeda connexion AND a lot of time talking about how they're Somali nationalists first (or at least equally to being islamists).
The program also spent quite some time showing new recruits in what I guess counts as their army. The words "Grand Somalia", reunification of occupied territory and all that kept back a lot more often than anything related to Islam.

That leads me to the essential dillema: knowing that the "Ogaden card" is and has been for a while, the best way to consolidate support within Somalia, how justified exactly are Ethiopia's fears ? How likely is it that a strong and non-belligerent government in Somalia is in fact an oxymoron ?

(This shouldn't be read as an endorsement of Ethiopia's human right violations and awful practices as an occupier. It's just a question about the principle of Ethiopia's "destabilization" of Somalia)

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