Reuters is reporting that a “freelance journalist said on Sunday he had seen U.S. troops on the ground in south Somalia working with Ethiopian forces hunting fugitive Islamists.”[1]  --  But a Google News search suggests that U.S. media outlets are not picking up the story.  --  The report is an indication that a Jan. 8 U.S. counterterrorism strike in Somalia “by an AC-130 plane firing a battery of cannons” that was reported to have killed civilians was not the one-time strike it was claimed to be.[2]  --  Pepe Escobar of Asia Times Online, for one, has no illusions on that score, particularly when the creation of Africa Command was Donald Rumsfeld’s swan song as U.S. secretary of defense.  --  Writing on Jan. 13, Escobar took at describing the big picture:  “For six months the ICU [Islamic Courts Union] managed to impose something Somalia had not had a glimpse of during 15 years of bloody, one-million-dead, civil war:  order. . . . The courts — although financed by private, wealthy Saudi Arabian and Gulf individuals — were not necessarily evolving into anything resembling Taliban Afghanistan. . . . The majority of Somalia is moderate.  --  Normally, left to their own devices, the Somalis would elect a moderate Islamic government with a huge popular mandate.  Over neo-con Washington's dead body, of course.  With essential U.S. clearance — and military training — neighboring archenemy Ethiopia, five times more populated than Somalia, decided to muddle through, sending no fewer than 15,000 troops to protect the innocuous, unelected ‘interim government’ of warlord Yusuf.  --  Ethiopia is predominantly Christian, but with a huge and very impatient Islamic minority; no wonder Ethiopia's corrupt dictator Meles Zenawi was concerned with the nightmare of Islamists in Somalia encouraging their Ethiopian brothers to rise.  The Islamists in Mogadishu were clear:  the Ethiopians were about to face a jihad.  It took Menawi six months to make his move:  profit from U.S. military help, invade Somalia, ‘protect’ Yusuf, and depose the ICU.  --  A full regional conflagration is now in the cards. . . . The whole Kafkaesque spectacle spells the possibility of non-stop disaster in the Horn of Africa for years to come.  The Pentagon's African Command will have no problems justifying its budget.”[3] ...

1.

SOMALI JOURNALIST SAYS SEEN U.S. TROOPS IN SOUTH

Reuters
January 21, 2007

http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=108712007

NAIROBI -- A freelance journalist said on Sunday he had seen U.S. troops on the ground in south Somalia working with Ethiopian forces hunting fugitive Islamists.

"They were Americans, I have no doubt," the journalist said, referring to helicopters he saw overhead and personnel he bumped into with Ethiopian soldiers at a military base.

Rumors have swirled for days that U.S. personnel were inside Somalia since a January 8 air strike aimed at al Qaeda suspects believed to be among the Islamists.

The strike was Washington's first overt military engagement in Somalia since 1994.

But there has been no official confirmation of a U.S. ground presence, which would be sure to inflame political passions in Somalia and the Horn of Africa region where Muslims complain of heightened discrimination in the name of the "war on terror."

The Somali journalist said that while on a filming trip to the Somalia-Kenya border area in recent days, he saw about 30 white men in military dress, some showing U.S. Marine insignia, with Ethiopian counterparts at the village of Kuldio.

The journalist, who works for various local and foreign media but asked not to be named for security reasons, said his vehicle was also tracked from the air for hours by two helicopters each carrying three white crew members.

"We were terrified, because they obviously suspected we were Islamists," he told Reuters in Nairobi by telephone.

"I was sure they were Americans in the helicopters, because we know they are in the area helping the Ethiopians. Then when we reached Kuldio, we saw them land, and the men got out.

"On the ground were at least 30 other Americans at a base with the Ethiopians. They had brown T-shirts and military trousers, some with U.S. Marines' badges on them."

Kuldio lies just a few kilometers from Ras Kamboni, where some Islamists fled after being ousted from Mogadishu on December 28 after a two-week offensive led by Somali government forces with their Ethiopian military allies.

Neither U.S. Embassy officials in Kenya, who also have responsibility for Somalia, nor spokesmen for the regional U.S. counter-terrorism base in Djibouti, could be immediately reached to comment on the journalist's report.

"TECHNICALS" ABLAZE

The Somali reporter said Ethiopian soldiers in the area had told him he could film destroyed Islamist battle-wagons, but not Ethiopian or American military personnel, or else his equipment would be destroyed.

His footage, sent to Reuters TV, shows images of destroyed battle-wagons, or "technicals" as they are known in Somalia.

The journalist said he had counted 85 in a day. "Some were still smoking because the Ethiopians are burning them," he said.

Washington quickly denied last week a Somali Islamist Web site report that its retreating fighters had captured 10 U.S. soldiers, one of whom died of malaria.

Qaadisiya.com, which has been the Islamists' official mouthpiece in recent months, also said "mujahideen" -- who retreated to the remote south after being ousted from Mogadishu -- planned to parade its U.S. detainees in front of media.

But the U.S. envoy for Kenya and Somalia, Michael Ranneberger, dismissed it as "utterly bogus."

Analysts have doubted whether Washington, which had a disastrous peacekeeping mission to the chaotic Horn of Africa nation in the early 1990s, would want to be so directly engaged again as to send soldiers on the ground.

The Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) ran most of south Somalia for six months until government forces, backed by Ethiopian tanks, jets, and troops, drove them out in the two-week offensive over Christmas and the New Year.

2.

U.S. RAID TO WORSEN VIOLENCE IN SOMALIA

Reuters
January 21, 2007

Original source: Reuters

NAIROBI -- A U.S. air strike on Somalia this month sparked widespread condemnation and predictions it would both worsen violence inside the country and hurt U.S. interests across east Africa.

But though the threat remains, the limited nature of the January 8 raid may have contained the backlash, analysts say.

Washington said the attack by an AC-130 plane firing a battery of cannons, America’s first overt action inside the chaotic country since a disastrous humanitarian mission ended in 1994, targeted only Al Qaeda suspects.

It rejected reports of civilian casualties and firmly denied any further raids.

“If it was a one-time event, I don’t think it will have a major impact but will disappear quickly if there is no more engagement in Somalia,” said David Shinn, a former U.S. envoy in the region.

When defeated Islamists were pushed into a remote southern corner of Somalia by Ethiopian and Somali government forces, apparently forcing Al Qaeda agents among them to break cover, Washington jumped at the chance of a decisive hit.

“The opportunity to do a short, sharp strike was at its prime -- that is why the Americans went for that,” a Western diplomat said. “The strike threw a bit of fuel on the fire . . . (but) the Americans have just been able to get away with it.”

The action provoked a chorus of condemnation from Europe, the United Nations, and the Arab League. EU aid chief Louis Michel said it would worsen violence in Somalia.

Ethiopia’s enemy Eritrea, alleged to have backed the Islamists who ruled southern Somalia for six months, said the strike would “incur dangerous consequences.”

The Ethiopian and U.S. action heightened fears of terrorist attacks in the region and Washington renewed travel warnings to its citizens.

“What will happen is that the extremists and their supporters will at some stage no doubt look to strike back in retaliation,” said one Somalia expert who declined to be named.

Some Somalis say they were most angered by what diplomats assumed was tacit U.S. approval for Ethiopian troops, tanks, and warplanes to oust the Islamists. Somalis see traditionally Christian Ethiopia as their natural enemy.

Western military sources say the United States gave Ethiopia intelligence data to help its campaign against the Islamists.

“The Ethiopian occupation which the Americans are supporting will create hatred against the Americans,” said one Mogadishu resident who declined to be named.

“The fury is still within the hearts and souls of the Somali people,” said Michael Weinstein, analyst with the Power and Interest News Report and professor at Purdue University.

The strike may also have discredited the interim government, already seen by many as a puppet of Ethiopia.

“It has weakened the credibility of the government . . . and has weakened the U.S. position as an honest broker,” Weinstein said.

Washington believes hardline Somali Islamists for years harbored al Qaeda members accused of bombing two U.S. embassies and an Israeli-owned hotel in east Africa.

The strike missed its target of three top Al Qaeda suspects but killed up to 10 of their allies, U.S. officials say.

Washington withdrew from Somalia after the disastrous 1993 “Black Hawk Down” incident, in which 18 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Somalis were killed. But it continued to play a covert role.

Washington was widely criticized last year for sending suitcases of cash to Mogadishu warlords who ran the capital in a series of violent fiefdoms but promised to catch “terrorists.”

That U.S. support fuelled popular resentment which helped the Islamists evict the warlords in June.

Many analysts rule out predictions that the Islamist defeat and U.S. intervention will spark an Iraq-style insurgency.

But a more potent fear is a return to the clan-based violence and anarchy that plagued Somalia for 15 years after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

“America should step back militarily and engage on the political side,” the Western diplomat said.

Many Somalis would prefer Washington stay out altogether.

3.

The Roving Eye

SOMALIA: AFGHANISTAN REMIXED
By Pepe Escobar

Asia Times Online
January 13, 2007

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/IA13Aa02.html

The "war on terror" is back with a bang. First Afghanistan, then Iraq, and now Somalia. And Iran could well be the next Islamic nation to be bombarded by the U.S. -- as President George W. Bush telegraphed in his "surge" speech on Wednesday.

The Pentagon is thus already well engaged in its self-described "arc of instability" that runs from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East and the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Himalayas. President Hugo Chavez's tropical Venezuela may not be Islamic, but he's taking no chances -- especially after the incendiary promise in his re-inauguration of "socialism or death."

"Surge" is now a global household name. It refers to the U.S. attack on Africans in Somalia in search for elusive al-Qaeda masterminds -- but they missed the main targets. It includes North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) killing scores of alleged Taliban in Paktika province in Afghanistan this week. The dead may have been 80, or may have been 150; nobody really knows about civilian casualties because there's not a single journalist in the area and NATO may spin what it wants. The Taliban say the dead are all civilians.

Surge also applies to the Pentagon getting into the business of attacking foreign consulates, confiscating national flags, computers, and arresting people, as it happened with an Iranian diplomatic mission -- according to Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini -- in Irbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

HOW TO MANUFACTURE “TERROR”

U.S. military circles dubbed it "a significant strategic shift" when Donald Rumsfeld, in one of his last tasks as defense secretary, set the stage for the birth of the African Command -- a lean, mean fighting machine that will broaden the mandate of the born-in-2002 Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. The latter had been locked in "war on terror" mode in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Yemen.

The U.S. military base in Djibouti -- home of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Special Forces who helped to design the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia -- will be the headquarters of the African Command.

Bets could be made on how many CIA/Pentagon analysts understand what's actually going on in the black void of the Horn of Africa. It's basically a vicious war of all against all -- which in a sinister tragicomedy of errors happens to have been fueled by the Pentagon itself.

Somalia is 100% Muslim and is populated by only one ethnic group, speaking a single, unified language. Like all over the Arab world, this is a clannish society -- six major clans, hundreds of sub-clans. When dictator Siad Barre was deposed in 1991, the inevitable result was clannish-based civil war.

American know of Black Hawk Down on October 1993 in Mogadishu -- not least because of Ridley Scott's swooping Panavision moves. And of course there's Hawa Elmi, aka the Black Hawk Down lady, a former nomad from the Somali desert who lives in Tokyo and charges US$3 admission to anyone who wants to contemplate a battered Black Hawk nose.

The U.S. was kicked out of Somalia in 1992. The United Nations left in 1995. What was left behind was beyond Mad Max -- or the Taliban heyday: an absolutely failed state infested with "technicals" -- pickups with mounted machine guns and anti-aircraft cannons roaming around a deserted wasteland filled with demented, drugged adrenaline junkies, the mooryaan, shooting, raping and pillaging at random.

Then came the attacks on the U.S. of September 11, 2001. For Washington, this black void -- a violent, government-deprived Islamic wasteland -- simply could not be tolerated. The U.S. tried to impose some sort of government. A U.N.-sanctioned, inevitably unpopular warlord, Abdullahi Yusuf, was rushed to power. But he was the wrong warlord -- according to the three others who actually controlled Mogadishu, profiting from piracy, cell phone-smuggling, and heavy trafficking of qat -- the ubiquitous, local euphoric plant. Yusuf would "rule" only his own backyard in Baidoa (echoes of Hamid Karzai in Kabul).

Mogadishu then developed into the realm of Islamic courts -- the local, practical, business-sector solution of using sharia (Islamic law) to regulate society. The courts are of course clannish. But in 2004 they finally congregated under the banner of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).

Washington inevitably freaked out, big time -- and responded the "war on terror" way. The CIA showered guns and gold on those three unsavory warlords -- sort of a remix of Afghanistan 2001. The Bush administration could not be more warlord-friendly, even violating a U.N. arms embargo. The warlords formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (a CIA suggestion, perhaps?). In theory, this alliance went after al-Qaeda. In practice, it fought the ICU.

Thus Papa got a brand new war -- the alliance against the courts.

WHEN IN DOUBT, INVADE

Once again the American scheme went spectacularly wrong. The courts were able to regiment support from all over southern Somalia. The warlords were expelled from Mogadishu. And the courts took over the whole city. For all Western cries of Talibanization, this was not a Taliban state -- not even a new Saudi Arabia.

For six months the ICU managed to impose something Somalia had not had a glimpse of during 15 years of bloody, one-million-dead, civil war: order. Guns and qat were banned. The price paid by the population: no Western music and cinema. Only two assassins were executed -- 12 times fewer people sent to the gallows than in Texas.

Finally, the capital was under law and order. The courts -- although financed by private, wealthy Saudi Arabian and Gulf individuals -- were not necessarily evolving into anything resembling Taliban Afghanistan. The chairman, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, wanted good relations with the U.N., the U.S., and the European Union. He strongly denied ties to al-Qaeda. The majority of Somalia is moderate.

Normally, left to their own devices, the Somalis would elect a moderate Islamic government with a huge popular mandate. Over neo-con Washington's dead body, of course. With essential U.S. clearance -- and military training -- neighboring archenemy Ethiopia, five times more populated than Somalia, decided to muddle through, sending no fewer than 15,000 troops to protect the innocuous, unelected "interim government" of warlord Yusuf.

Ethiopia is predominantly Christian, but with a huge and very impatient Islamic minority; no wonder Ethiopia's corrupt dictator Meles Zenawi was concerned with the nightmare of Islamists in Somalia encouraging their Ethiopian brothers to rise. The Islamists in Mogadishu were clear: the Ethiopians were about to face a jihad. It took Menawi six months to make his move: profit from U.S. military help, invade Somalia, "protect" Yusuf, and depose the ICU.

A full regional conflagration is now in the cards. Eritrea, which may go to war with Ethiopia again, helps the ICU. Egypt and Yemen help Yusuf. The whole Kafkaesque spectacle spells the possibility of non-stop disaster in the Horn of Africa for years to come. The Pentagon's African Command will have no problems justifying its budget.

After all, from Liberia to Sierra Leone, from Sudan to the Casamance region in Senegal, from Somalia to Congo, the stenographers of the "clash of civilizations" and the pawns of infinite war are just betting that hunger and ethnic and religious conflicts will coalesce into anti-Western and anti-U.S. feeling and be the perfect conduit for the spread of radical Islam.

First you create chaos. Then you create "terror," and then you expand your "war on terror" to every Islamic corner of the world.

SO MANY DEMONS, SO LITTLE TIME

The ICU has joined Hamas and Hezbollah in official Washington demonology. It's easy to preview the sequel. Those three, previously excluded, U.S.-backed warlords who terrorized the country for years are taking over. The ICU people dissolved into the population -- just like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Ba'athists in Iraq.

And a full-fledged Islamist guerrilla movement is being born. They will have plenty of targets to choose: Christian Ethiopian soldiers, warlord militias, "President" Yusuf's people, the odd American. The Hawiye clan is very influential in Mogadishu. It will never accept a president from the Darod clan, like Yusuf.

As far as the White House, Pentagon, CIA triad is concerned, at least for the moment they are getting the big prize: a client regime in the highly strategic Horn of Africa, facing the Gulf of Aden, next door to the Arabian Sea, and a stone's throw from the Persian Gulf. In addition -- what else? -- Somalia also happens to have oil.

Meanwhile, AC-130 gunships and Apache helicopters are raining hell on unsuspecting Africans. Despite barrages of spin, none of the top three alleged al-Qaeda masterminds responsible for the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania -- Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, and Abu Taha al-Sudani -- was killed.

But at least 31 people were, including two newlyweds, on a U.S. strike Tuesday near the Kenyan border, according to a Somali lawmaker -- and this in addition to 19 civilians killed in a Sunday strike, according to villagers in Hayo.

For the Yusuf "government," these are all "Islamic fighters." As for the "credible intelligence" evoked by the Pentagon -- arguably furnished by Menawi's and Yusuf's followers -- it is certainly of the same caliber of the Pakistani intelligence which for so many times pinpointed the "exact whereabouts" of al-Qaeda's number 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

It goes without saying that Ethiopia's U.S.-backed invasion of Somalia will generate a whirlwind of blowback. But that's just one more battlefront in the lands of Islam. Arabs kicked out the British in Palestine, Algerians kicked out the French, Afghans kicked out the Russians, Lebanese kicked out the Americans and Israelis, Somalis kicked out the Americans, Iraqis will kick out the Americans.

Somalia is the new Afghanistan and also the new Iraq. Inevitably, Somalis will also kick out the U.S.-backed Ethiopians. Until then, it's "war on terror," surge, and targeted assassination time.