In a report released March 20, Amnesty International (amnesty.org) made the following three points about U.S. military intervention in Somalia, in the part of northeast Africa known as the Horn:
- Forensic investigation yields credible evidence that 14 civilians were killed in just five strikes.
- There have been more than 100 strikes by U.S. drones and piloted aircraft since early 2017.
- Strikes in Somalia tripled under Donald Trump, outpacing strikes in Yemen and Libya combined.
“In the incidents presented in this report, civilians were killed and injured in attacks that may have violated international humanitarian law and could, in some cases, constitute war crimes,” the report said. The attacks take place under the U.S. Africa Command, or Africom, which stations more than 7,000 U.S. troops at bases throughout Africa.
While U.S. strikes have escalated, U.S. intervention in the Horn of Africa is nothing new. It has taken place for decades under both Democratic and Republican administrations under different pretexts. The pretexts are a cover for U.S. imperialism’s geostrategic and economic interests in the region.
Ogaden War of 1977-78
In 1977, under President Jimmy Carter, the U.S. aimed to counter a revolutionary, pro-socialist government that had seized power in Ethiopia and begun to align with the Soviet Union and other members of what was then the socialist camp. Somalia, which borders Ethiopia, claimed land in the Ogaden region, which had some ethnic Somali population. Carter armed Somalia to provoke a war against Ethiopia, claiming this was to defend self-determination.
After the failure of attempts by Cuba’s Fidel Castro to bring the leaders of Somalia and Ethiopia together to avert war, Somalia invaded. The USSR, Cuba and the German Democratic Republic aided Ethiopia, which defeated the Somali Army. The government of Somalia fled the country later in 1991, leaving no central state power in charge.
In the same period, concurrent with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the revolutionary Ethiopian government was overthrown by a pro-U.S. grouping.
‘Black Hawk Down’ — 1993
Under the George H.W. Bush administration, the U.S. military intervened in Somalia in 1992, this time claiming it was a humanitarian mission — to feed starving Somalis. The occupation continued under Bill Clinton, still with the “humanitarian” pretext, until a helicopter was shot down in Mogadishu, the capital, and U.S. troops were killed. The U.S. left in 1994.
Most people will know this only from a chauvinist movie, “Black Hawk Down,” whose only virtue is that it keeps the knowledge of this criminal U.S. intervention alive, if distorted. The truth was that U.S. air strikes killed 50 Somali elders who were holding a meeting. The murders made the population furious against the U.S. and led to the deaths of many U.S. troops.
Ethiopian troops, led by a pro-Western government, invaded unstable Somalia in 2006. Ethiopian, Kenyan and other African troops have operated in the country with U.S. air support to back up a weak Somali regime in Mogadishu.
The current pretext for U.S. intervention is allegedly to confront “terrorism.” The main organization fighting the Mogadishu government is called “Al Shabab” (The Youth), although the U.S. claims the Islamic State group (IS) forces also operate there.
Thus, over the course of the last 42 years, Washington has used three different pretexts to try to justify the war crimes committed by U.S. military forces against the Somali people.