Operation restore truth.
As in Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, and many other small nations, the U.S. government propped up a dictator in Somalia, armed him to the teeth at the taxpayers' expense, and suppressed information that he was ruthlessly killing his own people. When the dictator could no longer sustain power and his regime fell apart, the ensuing chaos was then used as an excuse to intervene in the affairs of yet another far-flung country. As for the American media, it once again kept a tight lid on the facts, thereby allowing the U.S. government to continue its standard operating procedure.
The history of Somalia is very much like that of other African nations, which have endured constant battering by colonization. Not until 1960 did all of the occupying European powers withdraw from Somalia. Shortly thereafter, the Soviet Union began its support for General Siad Barre, who overthrew the Somali government in 1969. The Soviets were interested in helping Barre because he wanted to take over parts of Ethiopia, which was backed by the United States. In 1974, a socialist government took power in Ethiopia, but Barre invaded anyway in 1977. The Soviets were not pleased and cut off support for Barre, but the United States was ready and willing to fill the void left behind in yet another example of the one-upsmanship of the Cold War.
During the 1980s, the United States supplied Barre with an estimated one billion dollars' worth of weapons and military training, which Barre did not hesitate to use on his own people. Because of the repeated torture, maiming, and murder of tens of thousands of tribal peoples, the Somali National Movement was organized to oust the dictator. In 1988, Barre ordered an all-out air war in an attempt to level his opponents. Thus, what the mainstream press called a "civil war" could more accurately be described as a domestic terrorist campaign, which raged for three years as Barre's stranglehold on Somalia became more and more difficult to maintain. Even when facing defeat, Barre and his followers invaded Somalia from Kenya three separate times, destroying crops and attacking the irrigation system. This was the cause of the now infamous Somali famine.
According to Howard Goldenthal, who provided research for an hour-long documentary on Somalia entitled Crimes Against Humanity, which was aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "Fifth Estate," many of Barre's officers were trained by the Pentagon's International Military Education program at U.S. military bases such as Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Some of these men are now residing in Canada and the United States despite their war crimes. For example, a 1986 IMED graduate was expelled to the United States from Canada and is probably still here, walking the streets as a free man despite allegations that he burned prisoners to death. Yet no one in the U.S. government will take any action, for the simple reason that the government knew how ruthless Barre and his followers were but continued to support them anyway. Between 1982 and 1988, more than 300 Somali officers received military training in the United States to the tune of $7 million. This produced "kinder, gentler" soldiers such as Yusef Abdi Ali Tokeh, simply known as Tokeh, who is accused of having at least 120 Somalis executed.
After numerous human-rights abuses by Barre's soldiers were exposed, Congress pressured Pentagon officials to cut off the sale of lethal weapons; but a U.S. congressional investigation reported that 1.4 million dollars' worth of arms managed to get through to Barre and his thugs anyway.
Describing Somalia as the "do-able" war (as opposed to Bosnia), the mainstream media has credited the United States' intervention to our indisputable humanitarian spirit. But for most cynics (especially in light of Bosnia), that doesn't seem quite enough to explain why George Bush would launch an international effort right before leaving office, when he could have easily ignored the situation.
The Los Angeles Times--but not the New York Times--reported that the real reason for "Operation Restore Hope" was oil. During the late 1980s, at the height of Barre's brutality, nearly two-thirds of Somalia was parcelled off to four major U.S. oil companies searching for oil and natural gas. Amoco, Chevron, Phillips, and Conoco have invested millions of dollars in Somalia since Barre granted licenses to these companies. According to the Los Angeles Times, "Sources said the companies holding the rights to the most promising concessions are hoping that the Bush administration's decision to send U.S. troops ... to Somalia will also help protect their ... investments."
And who would know more about oil than former Texas oil-man George Bush? In the mid-1980s, when geologists disclosed that "a great underground rift" of oil extended into northern Somalia, Bush made no secret of his desire to see American oil companies exploit this reserve. The Los Angeles Times quotes Bush back in 1986 as having stressed "the growing strategic importance to the West of developing crude oil sources in the region."
The multinational Conoco has the greatest interest in "peace," since oil was discovered in Somalia shortly before Bush decided to send in U.S. troops. Because Conoco cannot reap the benefits of its investment until order is restored, the company graciously rented its compound in Somalia to the U.S. government to prepare for the military invasion. An official spokesperson for Conoco described it as "a business relationship." The Los Angeles Times reported that this "close relationship between Conoco and the U.S. intervention force has left many Somalis and foreign development experts deeply troubled by the blurry line between the U.S. government and the large oil company, leading many to liken the Somali operation to a miniature version of Operation Desert Storm." It would doubtless raise a few eyebrows at home if more people were made aware of it.
General Farah Aidid, an Italian-and Soviet-trained officer who was once chief of police in Mogadishu, was also chief of staff to Siad Barre, the dictator to whom the United States gave millions in military training and arms in exchange for access to Somalia's oil. But Aidid left Barre in 1989 to join the Somali opposition movement and is widely credited with ousting Barre in early 1991. Because of his victory against Barre, Aidid is one of the most influential leaders in Somalia.
Even the mainstream press concedes that, at first, Aidid welcomed the American troops to Somalia. But something happened between the first arrival of American troops in December 1992 and June 1993, when an incident characterized as an "unprovoked attack" by Aidid's forces occurred, leaving 24 Pakistani troops dead and many others injured. The official version of the story gives no real answer as to why Aidid suddenly became so obstreperous; however, the New York Times commented that "the general's hospitality was contingent on his maintaining power." In other words, Aidid wasn't quite so obsequious once it became clear that the U.S. government wanted to get rid of him.
Although unreported in the American press, it wasn't long after the U.S. marines arrived that they began their campaign to undermine Aidid's power. The Economist reported that on January 6, 1993--shortly after their arrival and long before the United States officially began to target Aidid--"marines stormed into one of his strongholds in Mogadishu and captured a small arsenal of tanks, guns, and gun-mounted trucks."
And in March 1993, forces loyal to Muhammed Said Hersi Morgan, son-in-law of former dictator Barre, took control of an area to which allies of Aidid laid claim. The Economist reported that it took six hours for Belgian peacekeepers to arrive at the scene and "a further five days for America's 'quick-reaction force' of marines and helicopters to turn up." Aidid used his radio to denounce the United States for betraying his trust and the United Nations "for failing to keep his arch-enemy, General Muhammad Said Hersi Morgan, out of Kismayu."
These are just two incidents that took place months before the United Nations took over the peacekeeping operation, well before the American press officially labeled Aidid the "warlord from hell" for attacking Pakistani troops. It was that pivotal event which sparked the all-out hunt for Aidid. Clinton would later blame the United Nations not only for implementing this "misguided" idea of peacekeeping but for conceiving it in the first place.
The Pakistanis were "ambushed" as they were "inspecting" one of Aidid's arsenals in south Mogadishu. According to the New York Times, Aidid was quoted by the Italian news agency ANSA as saying that he regretted the deaths of the Pakistanis but that "innocent civilians had been massacred" by them in the fighting--a point upon which the New York Times does not elaborate. However, the Economist reported that the Pakistani troops opened fire into a crowd of 3,000 demonstrators, killing at least 20 civilians. The United Nations tried to blame a "third source" for the rocketing of civilians by a Cobra helicopter, but "witnesses to the event dismiss this allegation as ludicrous."
Despite the casualties suffered by Aidid's followers, retribution was still deemed necessary. The United Nations cynically named its plan to punish Aidid "Operation Continue Hope"--a plan that entailed several nights of bombardment followed by a ground assault on Aidid's headquarters and house, which was led by American and Italian armored vehicles. Initially, Aidid did not respond to the attacks, much to the dismay of U.N. military officials, most of them American. They "admit that they were hoping to provoke the general and his men to shoot back," which would "give them the excuse 'to bomb him to hell.'"
The only dissenting voice among the peacekeeping forces was that of General Bruno Loi, who led the Italian troops. Officially, he was sent back to Rome because he refused to follow orders. But before he went, he made it quite clear that he was sent home because he criticized the attacks against Aidid. Believing that it would only widen the war, cause the Somali people to turn against the peacekeepers, and divert attention away from the relief efforts, General Loi advocated negotiating with Aidid. Considering that Aidid is the most prominent leader in Somalia--especially now that he has been persecuted--it seems that Aidid would have to be reckoned with in order to restore peace, if that was indeed the mission. Instead, the U.S. and U.N. forces were hell-bent on capturing Aidid, which was characterized by General Loi as "a very singular way" of dealing with the problems in Somalia.
Unfortunately, General Loi's predictions came true. After the U.N. forces spent several months hunting Aidid, Somalis demonstrated their resentment on October 3 by attacking "about 100 rangers--crack airborne troops specially trained to carry out perilous missions." According to the New York Times, Blackhawk pilots came under fire while they were conducting one of a "dozen day and night raids to find General Aidid." The Somalis took Michael Durante hostage, but he was quickly released even though the United Nations refused to release 30 Somali hostages, including Aidid's top adviser. Eighteen American soldiers were killed, one of whom was dragged around naked in full view of a video camera. The predictable response of the United States was to double the number of U.S. troops in Somalia, thus widening the war.
To call Operation Restore Hope a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission is a bit Orwellian when a few of the facts are considered. First, the ratio of military personnel to civilian peacekeepers was about 100 to one, according to the Economist. Second, at the very least, 700 Somali civilians have been massacred by "peacekeepers" since the start of the operation. Third, by the time of the peacekeeping mission, the famine had long since peaked and the country was on the road to recovery.
The question in Somalia now is whether or not the next Somali leader will allow the oil companies to reap the benefits of their large investments. Clearly, General Farah Aidid was not the man the U.S. government wanted to see in power. Our first choice was apparently Muhammed Said Hersi Morgan, the son-in-law of the dictator who let American oil companies set up shop in the first place. But despite the best efforts of the U.S. and U.N. forces, Aidid not only eluded capture, he won a small battle on the public-relations front by forcing Clinton to concede that efforts to capture him were "misguided." Clinton was then pressured into setting a withdrawal date of March 31, as well as changing the focus of his policy from the capture of Aidid to building "institutions" and negotiating a compromise that Aidid was suddenly encouraged to join.
What has happened in Somalia since then is anyone's guess. The mainstream press has all but abandoned the subject, except for an occasional article about the withdrawal of American forces and hints that "banditry" and "lawlessness" increased substantially as the withdrawal date neared. Last heard, Aidid was being flown around in U.S. military planes to participate in negotiations, the results of which are unclear.
Buried on page six of the New York Times for March 24 was a report that "peace talks among leaders of Somali factions collapsed ... after nearly two weeks of talks," a situation which could "lead to renewed fighting." But only two days later, the New York Times reported on the front page that, miraculously, "all 15 warring Somali factions ... signed a reconciliation pact ... that calls for a ceasefire, repudiates violence, and sets a date for a future reconciliation conference." The date of said conference was not reported and, assuredly, accurate results of it won't be either.
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|Title Annotation:||U.S. relations with Somalia|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1994|
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