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Black Hawk Down and the Return to Mogadishu
By Ndubisi Obiorah

Special to
USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston and

An attack on Somalia by the U.S appears to be imminent , according to Pentagon sources, to fish out pro-Al-Qaeda Islamic extremists in that country, according to latest reports from the BBC.

Several thousands of Somali women, children and men were killed in the battle in central Mogadishu in 1993, that ensued when U.S Special Forces tried to capture the Somali warlord, Mohammed Aideed.  The battle was the kernel of the 2001-2002 hit movie, 'Black Hawk Down' but as is usual with Hollywood agitprop, it does not depict the deaths of the thousands of Somali civilians who were killed in the cross-fire between Aideed's militiamen and the US commandos.

Worse still, the movie does not attempt to convey or explain to the American people, the political background to the battle, especially how the US forces, which were originally sent to Somalia in late 1992 to support humanitarian relief efforts, got sucked into the Somali civil war and came to be perceived by some of the Somali people as siding with Aideed's opponents. Indeed, when the US forces initially arrived, Aideed made a point of being seen in the streets of Mogadishu with senior US military officers and quietly let it be known to the Somali people that the Americans had come to install him in power because his son, Hussein Aideed was a US marine!

The US government has the duty and right to protect its citizens including hunting down and capturing the extremists who attacked the US on 911 and their allies. However, as we saw in Afghanistan, where local warlords deliberately misled the US forces into attacking their local rivals by labelling them as Al-Qaeda elements, many in Africa fear that the US is about to be sucked into a long running regional conflict in the Horn of Africa as a result of disinformation provided by parties maneuvering to have US firepower deployed against their opponents. The US government is not famous for possessing accurate information about African history and politics, which makes this danger all the more real.

While it is true that local Somali Islamic extremists with links to Al-Qaeda as well as foreign Al-Quaeda elements were present in parts of Somalia from the early 1990s, the UN, humanitarian NGOs and Western journalists on the ground in Somalia have confirmed that, as of present, the Al-Qaeda elements and their local alllies have long since fled Somalia in the aftermath after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the US reprisals against the Al-Qaeda/Taliban alliance in Afghanistan. The reports of a current Al-Quaeda presence in Somalia appear to be disseminated to US intelligence officers and fuelled by Somalia's neighbours in an attempt to get the US to intervene on their side in their respective conflicts with Somalia.

There are long running frontier disputes between Somalia and 3 of its neighbours, Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia, especially over the status of ethnic Somalis in those countries. Somalia does not recognize the colonial frontiers created by Italy, Britain, France and Ethiopia in the latter part of the 19th century and considers parts of Kenya and Ethiopia as well as the whole of Djibouti to be Somali national territory. In turn, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti accuse Somalia of harbouring 'Greater Somalia' ambitions, seeking territorial aggrandizement and of sponsoring armed secessionist groups within their territories.

Somalia claims the entire territory of the state of Djibouti, a former French colony on the Red Sea coast, on the grounds that the entire population of Djibouti is composed of Somali clans who were forcibly separated from their kith and kin by French imperialist annexation in the 19th century.

Somalia claims the Ogaden region of Ethiopia which is largely inhabited by ethnic Somalis as part of its national territory. In 1977, Somalia went to war with Ethiopia over the Ogaden; the conflict swiftly acquired Cold War dimensions with the US and Soviet Union which had hitherto backed Ethiopia and Somalia respectively, switching clients. The war ended in stalmate and there have been sporadic border clashes and incursions ever since by both countries.

Somalia lays claim to territory presently held by Kenya which abuts the Somali-Kenyan frontier and which is inhabited predominantly by ethnic Somalis. There are sporadic clashes on the Kenya-Somali border and ‘Wild West conditions prevail on that frontier, driven by organized criminal networks which operate lucrative smuggling and cattle rustling rings.

Ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia and Kenya have long complained of being treated like second-class citizens and of violations of their human rights. The ethnic Somali regions of Kenya and Ethiopia abutting their frontiers with Somalia have effectively been under 'emergency rule for decades and gross human rights violations against ethnic Somalis have been committed by the Kenyan and Ethiopian security forces while allegedly hunting down 'Greater Somalia' secessionists or members of organized criminal networks.

As can be seen, all three countries, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti have excellent motives for encouraging the US to attack Somalia. African observers note that one of the reasons why Somalia still has no central government since 1990 is that some of the various Somali factions and warlords are financed by and allied to one or the other of its neighbours in the Horn of Africa or in the Arabian peninsula across the Red Sea.

From a realistic perspective, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti have every incentive for preferring Somalia to remain as a failed state with no central government which could revive Somali nationalist sentiments for 'Greater Somalia' re-unification. It would serve their interests to incite a US attack on Somalia which would weaken and devastate the country even further thereby making the prospect of Somali national resurgence an even more remote possibility.

Furthermore, none of Somalia's neighbours countries has a truly democratic government and their leaders have good reason to seek to divert public attention in their respective countries from local political and economic problems by stoking up tensions in the Horn of Africa, thereby compelling their citizens to line up behind the flag.

At the present time, US and European naval and air units are operating surveillance missions over Somalia and its coastline from Kenya. However, recent reports indicate that combat units are about to be deployed to Kenya as a staging post for an attack on Somalia.

18 American soldiers lost their lives in a needless battle in Mogadishu in 1993 which could have been avoided if the US had a better knowledge of the history and politics of Somalia and thus the local US commanders could have avoided getting sucked into local conflicts. There is a real prospect, indeed a clear and present danger of the US getting sucked into the regional conflicts between Somalia and her neighbours. Some Somalis believe that the US government does know full well that there are no Al-Qaeda elements in the country today and that the proposed attack is simply American vengeance [as conceived by ultra-right-wing militarist elements within the US government] for the humiliation of the US Special Forces by Mohammed Aideed's militiamen in 'Black Hawk Down' I in 1993.
Obiorah is postgraduate law student at Harvard. He contributes editorial features to

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