Los Angeles Times July 29, 2012 - The Nobel Peace president is the driving force behind the fighting in Somalia
Washington has been quietly equipping and training thousands of African soldiers to wage a widening proxy war against the Shabab, the Al Qaeda ally that has sparked alarm as foreign militants join its ranks. The U.S. has been quietly equipping and training thousands of African soldiers to wage a widening proxy war against the Shabab, the Al Qaeda ally that has imposed a harsh form of Islamic rule on southern Somalia and sparked alarm in Washington as foreign militants join its ranks.
Officially, the troops are under the auspices of the African Union. But in truth, according to interviews by U.S. and African officials and senior military officers and budget documents, the 15,000-strong force pulled from five African countries is largely a creation of the State Department and Pentagon, trained and supplied by the U.S. government and guided by dozens of retired foreign military personnel hired through private contractors.
Like CIA drone strikes in Pakistan and Somalia, and the overthrow of Moammar Kadafi's regime in Libya, the U.S. backing of African troops in Somalia is an example of how, after a decade of ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration is trying to achieve U.S. military goals with minimal risk of American deaths and scant public debate.
The U.S. can underwrite the war in Somalia for a relative pittance — the cost over four years has been less than $700 million, a tenth of what the military spends in Afghanistan in a month — but the price tag is growing. More than a third of the U.S. assistance has been spent since early 2011.
A shadowy organization estimated to have as many as 14,000 fighters, the Shabab emerged in 2007 when it vowed to overthrow the weak fledgling central government in Mogadishu, the capital. The militia gradually took control of large parts of the capital and other towns, defeating some of Somalia's well-armed clans and allying with others. U.S. officials say its ranks include foreigners linked to Al Qaeda, which the Shabab announced it had joined this year, and they worry that Al Qaeda could gain a larger foothold in Somalia unless the homegrown group is defeated.
The administration has not disclosed much in public about its role in Somalia, in part because African Union officials do not want their force seen as a Washington puppet. But Wafula Wamunyinyi, deputy head of the African Union mission, calls the U.S. "our most important partner," noting that its assistance has been "quite enormous."
The U.S. is supplying the African forces with surveillance drones, ammunition, small arms, armored personnel carriers, night-vision goggles, communications gear, medical equipment and other sophisticated aid and training, documents show.
Before the soldiers deploy, they receive boots, uniforms, protective vests and 13 weeks of basic training in combat skills and detecting hidden bombs. There's also more specialized instruction for medics, intelligence officers and combat engineers.