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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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