Sunday, October 30, 2011

America's War in the Horn of Africa: “Drone Alley” – a Harbinger of Western Power across the African Continent

Global Research, October 29, 2011


US military sources have confirmed that the Obama administration is engaged in a new war in the famine-hit Horn of Africa region.

The disclosure in the Washington Post [1] comes only days after other prominent Western media outlets, including the New York Times and the Financial Times, carried denials from the US government that it was involved in directly supporting Kenyan forces that invaded Somalia on 16 October.

Global Research first reported on 19 October [2] the lethal use of US drones in attacks on various locations across southern Somalia in a coordinated air campaign to assist the advance of Kenyan ground troops deep into Somali territory held by Islamic insurgents. We reported that US drones began attacking Somali targets days before the Kenyan army began its incursion, and have continued in a pattern that indicates American air power is being used to pave the way for ground forces as they advance towards the southern port city of Kismayu – the main stronghold of the Al Shabab insurgents, which the US government accuses of having links with Al Qaeda.

It is believed that scores of Somali fighters and civilians have been killed over the past two weeks by US unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have attacked several cities and towns, including Qoqani, Afmadow and Kismayu. Global Research also reported on 26 October [3] that French naval forces had joined the bombing campaign – again despite official French denials carried in Western media – and that the conclusion from these military developments was clear: Washington and Paris are now engaging in a secret new war in East Africa ¬– a region where up to 12 million people are at risk of starvation from years of drought and Western-induced conflict.

On 27 October, the Washington Post cited US military officials confirming the deployment of attack and surveillance drones in “a rapidly expanding US-led proxy war against an al Qaeda affiliate in East Africa”. The UAVs – also known as Reapers or Hunter Killers – are believed to be operated from a site in southern Ethiopia, Arba Minch, as well as from US bases in Djibouti and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.

The WP report states: “The [US] Air Force has invested millions of dollars to upgrade an airfield in Arba Minch, Ethiopia, where it has built a small annex to house a fleet of drones that can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs. The Reapers began flying missions earlier this year over neighboring Somalia… The location of the Ethiopian base and the fact that it became operational this year, however, have not been previously disclosed.”

This disclosure of US military operations in Somalia amounts to an admission that Washington is at war. However, the Washington Post, while stating “rapidly expanding US-led proxy war”, does not highlight the legal implications of that startling admission, concentrating its reportage on technical and logistical issues that are providing “support for [US] security assistance programs”.

Iranian news channel Press TV – citing civilian eyewitnesses and Kenyan and Somali military officials – has been one of the few media outlets that has consistently reported the almost daily lethal US drone attacks in southern Somalia since the Kenyan invasion. However, even Press TV has not drawn the explicit conclusion that this amounts to war.

While the other Western news media, including the BBC, Reuters and the New York Times, had earlier reported increased US drone activity in Somalia between June and September, these outlets appeared to have dropped coverage of the deadly attacks being reported since and just before 16 October.

Following the disclosure in the Washington Post, the BBC on 28 October seemed to resume its coverage, with the headline: “US flies drones from Ethiopia to fight Somali militants”. The BBC, as with the WP, does not view this as an act of war, and stressed that the “remotely-piloted drones were being used only for surveillance” – contrary to evidence on the ground.

As well as playing down the fact of US-led war in Somalia, the mainstream media now seem to be crafting a new narrative for the military offensive. The initial pretext for the Kenyan ground invasion faithfully repeated in the Western media was the “hot pursuit” of kidnap gangs allegedly belonging to Al Shabab. It is true that there has been a spate of kidnappings of Western holidaymakers and aid workers from Kenyan territory by gangs suspected to originate inside Somalia. However, there is no proof that Al Shabab has been involved and indeed the militant group has denied any involvement.

Now it seems that the rationale being given for the Kenyan invasion and Western “technical support” has subtly morphed into an extension of the “war on terror”. Al Shabab has been waging an insurgency against the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu, which was installed in 2009 with the support of US and other Western governments as a bulwark against the Islamists. The TFG has only managed to maintain a tenuous grip on power thanks in part to Washington’s military and economic support and to the presence of thousands of African Union troops from Uganda and Burundi.

Al Shabab is on Washington’s terror list and is accused of having links to Al Qaeda. However, many Western analysts do not consider Al Shabab to be a regional threat. The Council on Foreign Relations, the Washington-aligned think-tank, estimates that the group has only a few hundred hardcore combatants and that its alleged links to Al Qaeda may be no more than rhetorical. Nevertheless, the militants have prevented the pro-Western TFG from gaining control of the country. In that way, the group has thwarted Washington and Western geopolitical dominance of the strategically important East African maritime territory.

This would seem to be a more plausible explanation for the US/French/Kenyan war in Somalia. Namely, the assertion of Western geopolitical control, rather than “war on terror” and certainly not the hot pursuit of kidnap gangs. That gives the real meaning behind the “constellation of US drone bases” being operated in the region – to strike any African country when and where required. Currently, Somalia (and Yemen) is in the firing line. But the entire region appears being turned into a “drone alley”. It is perhaps only a matter of time before reports emerge of drone activity in Sudan, Eritrea, Uganda and elsewhere. The recent deployment of US Special Forces in Uganda and other Central African countries is also a harbinger of this strategic force projection.

The bigger picture to this is, as John Pilger noted previously in Global Research, a “modern scramble for African resources” by Western powers, which have in recent years watched enviously the growing influence of China in the region. This neo-imperialist scramble for Africa is consistent with NATO’s conquest of Libya. The close collaboration between the US and France in the bombing of North Africa is now being rolled out in East Africa.

It also marks a new era of lawlessness by Western powers. Not only can President Barack Obama personally order the assassination of individuals with his penchant for “hunter killer” drones. Evidently from developments in Somalia, Commander-in-Chief Obama is no longer obliged to notify the US Congress or the American people of their country’s engagement in new wars. Nor is he obliged to even seek a phony UN mandate. Not so long ago such abuse of power would be sure grounds for impeachment.

Finian Cunningham is Global Research’s Middle East and East Africa correspondent





Global Research Articles by Finian Cunningham

Friday, October 28, 2011

US admits flying drones out of Ethiopia

An Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone

The United States acknowledged Friday it was flying drones out of Ethiopia under a counter-terrorism campaign in the Horn of Africa but said the aircraft were unarmed and not carrying out raids.

"The US has unarmed and unmanned aircraft at a facility there to be used only for surveillance as part of a broad, sustained integrated campaign to counter terrorism," Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby told AFP.

"These unmanned aircraft are being used only for surveillance and not conducting strike missions."

The Pentagon, the White House and the State Department confirmed the drone flights out of the airfield in Arba Minch after The Washington Post first reported the operation late Thursday.

But officials insisted the Reaper drones were not armed as the Post initially reported, citing unnamed officials.

The US Air Force's presence in Ethiopia is a delicate political issue there and American officials are anxious to downplay the role of the military and intelligence agencies across the region.

"There are no US military bases in Ethiopia. It's an Ethiopian airfield," Kirby said.

In support of Ethiopia's 2006 invasion of Somalia, US warplanes carried out attacks from a base in Ethiopia. The government, however, ended the arrangement once it became public.

Kenya sent forces into southern Somalia this month to chase Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants, but has denied the United States or other Western countries are actively involved in the operations.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States was determined to press ahead with counter-terror efforts, which have increasingly focused on Al-Qaeda's network in the Arabian peninsula and Shebab militants.

"We are harnessing every tool of American power -- military, civilian and diplomatic. The United States is strengthening its intelligence, military and security capabilities and drawing from the full range of enforcement tools in coordination with partners around the globe," Carney told reporters.

Under President Barack Obama, the United States has turned to drones to carry out a covert bombing campaign against Al-Qaeda and allied militants in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

The raids are conducted under the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency, not the military, but special operations forces and drone aircraft can be assigned to the spy agency for the strikes.

The covert strikes are an open secret but top US officials decline to publicly acknowledge the raids.

Administration officials declined to comment on whether the drone surveillance flights out of Ethiopia were focused on Somalia.

But a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "We're obviously very concerned about instability in Somalia."

And State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, when asked if the drones are aimed at tackling the Shebab threat, said: "It is designed to deal with terrorism throughout the region and the neighborhood in any form."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Geopolitics and the Horn of Africa : Foreign Hand

On the basis of one recent but short trip to South Sudan and a lengthy, but distant, stay in southern Ethiopia I concluded recently that one of the more interesting consequences of the Libyan war has been a remarkable change of fortunes in what was a small Cold War in the Horn of Africa.

The Bad Guys were a coalition of curious nations: Eritrea, Sudan and Libya. Eritrea, sometimes called the North Korea of Africa, has nearly 300,000 men under arms despite a population of less than six million. It is a tightly run dictatorship and has maintained a state of border edginess with its much larger neighbour Ethiopia. Sudan was a more formidable player, one of Africa’s largest countries and with a regular cash flow from oil and gas. But its Achilles heel was a civil war in the South and international opprobrium over its treatment of Darfur. And, behind all this, were the moneybags of Libya.

Arranged against this alliance were the Good Guys, or at least Not So Bad Guys, of Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and, at a distance, the United States.

This balance of power was, well, evenly balanced until this year. Two big shifts have broken the back of the Bad Guy alliance. The first was the breakoff of South Sudan. This has deprived Khartoum of its primary oil and gas resources and a third of its territory. And South Sudan is quite clear, it sees itself as part of East Africa, and has applied to join the East Africa Community. Guess what alliance they see themselves as part of?

Then, of course, there’s the collapse of the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Unsurprisingly Eritrea has seen the writing on the wall, pushed a little bit more by a United Nation report that accuses its government of trying to bomb an African Union summit. It has applied for entry into the East African Community and may even be trying to seek some sort of arrangement with its most hated enemy, Ethiopia.

Egypt, the other peripheral player, has indicated who it sees as the winner by offering aid to South Sudan. It tacitly supported the Bad Guys because they were seen as status quo supporters of the division of the waters of the Nile River – its most important strategic concern. Now its seen them as a lost cause and is wooing the other side. They, however, are likely to push for a change in the water-sharing treaty. But that’s another story.

Does this matter for India? New Delhi has better relations with the Good Guy alliance, especially the East African countries and Ethiopia. But its companies do good business in Sudan as well. However, its real security concern are the pirates and militant groups in Somalia and there it is Ethiopia that is taking the lead. If the distraction of Eritrea is gone, it is possible Addis Ababa may take a more active role in Somalia. India’s National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon has publicly spoken of the possibility of India providing naval support for an African Union military force, largely Ethiopian right now, cleaning up Somalia.

The next game in the Horn will, India hopes, be Somalia.

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