The report illustrates how Obama’s often-secret war against al Qaeda can sometimes conflict with his administration’s commitment to the United Nations.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
Obama’s Not-So-Secret Terror War
Posted by Charleston Voice
Jul 24, 2012 4:45 AM EDT
The United States is breaking a 20-year arms embargo on Somalia by providing unauthorized intelligence training to regional governments and special-forces missions, according to a forthcoming United Nations report that discloses new details of the U.S. war against al Qaeda in the war-torn African nation.
The report, issued by the U.N.’s Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) and reviewed by The Daily Beast, details three covert U.S. programs to aid local Somali security services in their fight against Al-Shabab, the Somalia affiliate of al Qaeda. It says Central Intelligence Agency officers are helping the government of Puntland, a semi-autonomous region not recognized by the U.N., and U.S. special forces are fighting alongside Puntland soldiers. It also says the U.S. hasn’t notified the U.N. of these activities, as is required by the terms of the embargo. The U.S. helped establish the embargo in 1992 when Somalia erupted in a civil war.
The report says 12 countries, including the U.S., aren’t complying with the arms embargo, having failed to inform the U.N. of cargo flights to supply various parties in the Somalia conflict. The country is one of the world’s most violent, lacking a functioning central government and overrun by warring militias, Islamist insurgents, and pirates who threaten large parts of the coast.
“We are trying to establish a norm of compliance with the sanctions regime on Somalia,” said Matthew Bryden, the head of the SEMG. “We can’t do that if members of the U.N. Security Council themselves are not compliant.”
Spokespeople for the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, and the Pentagon all declined to comment on allegations made in the forthcoming SEMG report. Hillary Renner, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, declined to comment on “military operations or intelligence matters,” but said that since 2007, the U.S. has given $106 million to support the Somali National Army. “This support is intended solely for the purpose of helping develop security-sector institutions consistent with the U.N.-supported political process in Somalia and in compliance with the arms embargo on Somalia. The Department of State has continued to submit notifications for its support to the SNA,” said Renner.
Eli Lake on the hellish conditions of Somali prisons.
The report illustrates how President Barack Obama’s often-secret war against al Qaeda can sometimes conflict with his administration’s commitment to work cooperatively with the U.N. As recently as 2010, the administration said it wasn’t directly involved in Somali military operations. “The United States does not plan, does not direct, and does not coordinate the military operations of Somalia’s [Transitional Federal Government],” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson in March 2010. “Further, we are not providing nor paying for military advisers.”
Yet press reports in recent years have alleged that the CIA has trained Somali intelligence officers and that U.S. military personnel and drones were helping the Somali Army in an offensive against Al-Shabab, the local arm of al Qaeda. An article in The Nation last year detailed CIA assistance to Somalia’s national-security agency and the existence of an intelligence headquarters and detention center known as the “pink house.”
Only recently did Obama publicly acknowledge direct assistance. In a June 15 letter to Congress, the president said, “[I]n a limited number of cases, the U.S. military has taken direct action in Somalia against members of al-Qa'ida, including those who are also members of al-Shabaab.” He didn’t provide specifics, saying only that the moves were intended to “counter the terrorist threat.”
The new SEMG report offers fresh details about U.S. training and aid to the Somali National Security Agency. The agency operates something called the “alpha group,” according to one U.N. official involved in the report, that is “used as proxy for U.S. intelligence operations” in areas controlled by the country’s Transitional Federal Government.
When the U.S. government was asked about an “alpha group” by the SEMG it responded in a May 7 letter that it “does not acknowledge any form of direct support to the Somali National Security Agency,” according to the report.
The SEMG usually compiles its report on the arms embargo every year. Past reports, including from 2007 and 2008, said the U.S. had notified the U.N. of its activities. “A number of foreign Governments are reportedly involved in training the National Security Agency,” the 2008 SEMG report said. “But only the Government of the United States has notified the Security Council that it is doing so.”..