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Somalis harassed in U.S. as

Pentagon plans escalation in Horn of Africa

Published Apr 23, 2009 7:13 PM

In the aftermath of the April 12 sniper killings of three Somali teenagers by the U.S. Navy, several U.S. agencies met on April 17 to conduct a review of military and foreign policy toward this Horn of Africa nation. The State Department, Pentagon and Justice Department have outlined a series of options to ostensibly fight “piracy” in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

Somalia is in a desperate condition after decades of intervention by the U.S. and European imperialists. One of the reasons Somali fishermen have turned to seizing ships is that tons of toxic and radioactive wastes from Europe have been dumped off their shores in recent years, killing off the fish they relied on for a living and sickening the villagers along the coast.

It was announced on April 17 that the U.S. would fund the security forces of the new Somalia government established in February. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Phillip Carter stated that the Barack Obama administration was going to focus on long-term “security” issues in Somalia and at the same time end piracy off the shores of the country.

During the highly publicized seizure of the captain of a U.S.-flagged, Danish-owned cargo vessel, the Maersk Alabama, the U.S. sent three warships into the Indian Ocean. Plans are underway to escalate foreign naval presence in the region in order to provide escorts for ships traveling the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.

Other options being considered include placing military personnel on individual ships and imposing a blockade on Somali towns that the U.S. claims are bases for piracy operations. In addition, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for seizing the assets of those designated as pirates operating off the coast of Somalia.

“These pirates are criminals. They are armed gangs on the sea. And those plotting attacks must be stopped,” Clinton said in Washington. She also called for “going after” bases where pirates are operating and developing methods “to explore ways to track and freeze” money paid as ransom to pirates. (AP, April 16)

It was also reported that “the United States is a major contributor to an international anti-piracy patrol called Task Force 151. The task force is part of a contingent of some two dozen warships from a number of countries, including the European Union, China and Russia, that patrol the area.” (AP, April 18)

The article mentioned above on the U.S. military presence in the region also says, “Helicopters and airplanes were at the ready during the Maersk Alabama standoff, and the Navy has been gathering information about the pirates through P-3 patrol aircraft and unmanned drones.”

Other tactics are being considered by the Pentagon. “Increased use of drones and other surveillance tools is one option. Another air option is using airborne assaults on pirate vessels and on-land lairs. Submarines might also be used to collect information about pirate movements.”

Some Pentagon officials want also to engage in land operations against people targeted as pirates. A combination of both attacks on land and the tracking of people in the waters would require coordination between the U.S. Army, Marines and Navy.

French commandos have carried out a number of raids against pirates who have taken control of vessels in the region. In early April, a 28-year-old French civilian died during a gun battle when the military took control of a ship being held by Somalis.

On April 16, the EU indicated that it was boosting its so-called “anti-piracy fleet” off the Somalia coast. Up to 11 ships, including an addition of three Swedish frigates, were to be deployed beginning in May.

Nonetheless, EU officials are saying that “the U.S. wouldn’t find many allies if it tried to coordinate commando operations to save hijacked ships. ‘We don’t want bloodbaths.’” (Inside Somalia, April 18)

Such U.S.-proposed military actions could result in the deaths of many innocent people. Jason Alderwick, a maritime-defense analyst for the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, says, “Terrorists, tourists, fishermen, pirates, they all look the same until the last moment.” (Inside Somalia, April 18)

In regard to the legal status of Somalis captured and charged with piracy, the U.S. has said it will prosecute a Somali teenager captured during the standoff involving the Maersk Alabama. The French government, which says it has captured 11 Somalis involved in piracy, is currently interrogating them in Paris jails.

In response to the increased attention on the situation in the waters off the coast of Somalia, the U.S., Britain and the EU have all signed agreements to allow for piracy suspects to be turned over to Kenya for trial. Kenya is part of the Commonwealth of Britain and its former colonies.

Linking the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden is a shipping lane providing the shortest route between Asia and Europe. It is estimated that some 20,000 ships move through that sea lane annually. The Indian Ocean is also utilized for the shipment of commercial goods and military equipment from various parts of the world.

Somalis face increased harassment

Over the last several months, the FBI has conducted numerous investigations in the Somali community in the U.S. Reports have surfaced in the corporate press that young Somali men have left the U.S. and returned to their home country.

The Justice Department has attempted to create suspicion around these movements, despite the fact that many Somalis feel the new coalition government formed in Mogadishu may bring about political stability inside the country, which has been without an internationally recognized government since 1991.

In Minnesota, federal agents have been going to high schools, colleges and the state university and interviewing Somali nationals on the whereabouts of various young men. In response to these developments, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is requesting that colleges provide legal assistance to students approached by the FBI.

At the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Ruqia Mohamed was approached by two FBI agents seeking information about various young men, as well as the leaders of a local mosque. Mohamed described the visits as “random and at the same time spooky.” (Minnesota Daily, April 15)

The student said that the federal agents were “two young girls dressed casual, unlike those I see on TV.” She said they came to her home with photographs of men who are supposedly missing and mosque leaders.

“They asked me about how [one of the two missing men from the University] used to dress and the mosques he attended,” Mohamed said. “Mosques were built for prayers,” Mohamed told the FBI agents, adding that “every Muslim goes to mosques.” (Minnesota Daily, April 15)

Mohamed also reported that FBI agents showed up at her home on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, and asked if she had information on anybody who was planning attacks on Washington. “We are Americans and we voted for Obama,” she told the federal agents. “Why would we bomb his inauguration?”

The president of the Somali Student Association (SSA), Fathi Gelle, has also been approached about the missing men as well as various activities engaged in by the organization. Deputy Chief Chuck Miner of the university’s police force confirmed that they had urged the students to cooperate with the FBI.

Although Gelle was reminded by the police that she was under no obligation to speak with the FBI, she felt compelled to explain the character of the SSA. “But since I’m leader of the association, I felt I should educate them about SSA,” she said. The association sponsors educational, cultural and religious activities.

Gelle said that she was questioned about the missing men and whether they were members of the SSA. “I told them they were members,” she said. “Of course, they are Somalis.”

She stated that it was “wrong that the FBI is approaching the students in the campus.” She also told the Minnesota Daily that “students should not talk to them if they think they might say something that will haunt them later.”

Implications for U.S. actions towards Somalia

The escalation of the numbers of U.S. Naval warships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean is designed to maintain a permanent presence in the region. There have been two failed efforts on the part of the U.S. to establish political control over developments in Somalia in recent years.

In 1992, during the concluding days of the George Bush, Sr. administration, thousands of U.S. troops were deployed to Somalia to supposedly provide humanitarian assistance to the country. However, over the next several months, hundreds of Somalis had been arrested and killed by U.S. military forces.

Somalis began to vigorously resist the presence of the U.S. Marines and other military forces under the banner of the United Nations. A series of battles between Somalis and the occupying troops resulted in the deaths of both U.S. and other U.N. forces during 1993. The United States and the United Nations withdrew completely from the country in 1994.

In 2006, when the Union of Islamic Courts began to stabilize the situation inside of Somalia, the George W. Bush administration began to fund “warlords” opposed to the Islamic Courts in an attempt to undermine the efforts aimed at creating a new and more representative political system. When this failed, the U.S. encouraged the western-backed regime in Ethiopia to launch an invasion.

The invasion and occupation was met with strong resistance from the Union of Islamic Courts. The youth wing of the UIC, Al-Shabab, took the lead in forcing the Ethiopian government troops to withdraw from the country in January 2009.

A new coalition regime incorporating elements from the Federal Transitional Government, supported by Ethiopia and the U.S. and more moderate forces inside the UIC, was formed earlier in the year. However, the situation is still volatile because Al-Shabab and other organizations are demanding that the African Union troops (AMISOM) from Uganda and Burundi be completely withdrawn from the country.

The continuing struggle inside Somalia, coupled with the seizure of commercial vessels, has prompted the U.S. and other imperialist states to step up their presence in the region. Nonetheless, the presence of these naval fleets will only further inflame tensions in the Horn of Africa and off its coast.

Anti-imperialists inside the U.S. must oppose this recent upsurge in pro-interventionist propaganda. It is the U.S. presence that has created increased instability in Somalia over the last two years. Any effort to create peace and stability in the region must come from the Somali people themselves in conjunction with other African states throughout the region.