New American Ally in Somalia: ‘Butcher’ Warlord
If you thought it was bad that Washington is paying a shady French mercenary to do its dirty work in Somalia, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Just wait to you see our latest ally: an admirer of Osama bin Laden with a gory past.
Richard Rouget, a notorious gun-for-hire who uses American funds to train African Union soldiers fighting in the ruins of Mogadishu, has been mentioned in connection with at least one murder. But U.S.-backed Somali government general Yusuf Mohamed Siad, a.k.a. “Indha Adde,” a.k.a, “The Butcher,” once ruled an entire region of Somalia with a bloody fist.
The U.S.-led international intervention in civil war-torn Somalia is unlike any of America’s other wars. Where the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are fought by tens of thousands of U.S. troops, in Somalia Washington pays others to do most of the fighting. These proxies include merc firms, regional bodies such as the A.U. and local allies including the nascent federal government.
That means less direct danger to American lives. But in another sense it means more danger. The more that the U.S. relies on proxy armies to do its fighting, the more it risks those proxies usurping American support and directing it towards their own dubious ends. That’s the subject of ace reporter Jeremy Scahill’s latest piece in The Nation and also of my own feature for The Diplomat.
“As one of the main warlords who divided and destroyed Somalia during the civil war that raged through the 1990s, he brutally took control of the Lower Shabelle region,” Scahill wrote about Siad. “There are allegations that he ran drug and weapons trafficking operations from the Merca port.” Siad also readily admits providing protection to al-Qaida operatives and speaks fondly of the late Osama bin Laden.
Mind you, this is one of the top generals in the army of one of our closest allies in Somalia.
For years, Siad resisted CIA efforts to lure him and his hundreds of militiamen to the American side. It took a lot of sweet-talking plus seismic shifts in Somali politics and U.S. strategy to draw in Siad. In 2008, Washington backed Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist and former ally of Siad’s, for Somali president. Just two years prior, Ahmed had been co-leader of the Islamic Courts Union, an Islamic group that birthed al-Shabab, pictured, a terrorist and insurgent group and today the main threat in Somalia.
Ahmed and Siad both changed sides as Al Shabab grew more extreme and foreign governments organized to destroy it. For the moment, the U.S. and its shady Somali allies share a common enemy. It’s not clear how long the alliance will last — or how strong it is even today. “Ahmed claims that Indha Adde [a.k.a., Siad] and other warlords have sworn allegiance to the government,” Scahill wrote, “but it is abundantly clear from traveling extensively through Mogadishu with Indha Adde that his men are loyal to him above all else.”
“The warlords being backed by you [America] have only a conflict of interest with the Shabab, not of ideology,” another former warlord told Scahill. “That’s why [arming and supporting them] is a dangerous game.”
With Al Shabab on the run following relentless international attacks from the ground, air and sea, Washington soon could find itself in an uneasy relationship with U.S.-armed Somalis who, just a few years ago, were its enemies — and who no longer have a greater enemy to focus on.
What happens after that is anybody’s guess.
Photo: Flickr/Abdurahman Warsame