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WHY IS TRUMP SENDING MORE U.S. TROOPS TO SOMALIA?

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The last deployment of regular U.S. troops to Somalia led to an incident that sparked widespread horror.

Somali militiamen shot down two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, killing 18 American soldiers. They captured several of the corpses, dragging them through the streets of the Somali capital. The attack contributed to then President Bill Clinton’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops within six months from Somalia, where they had been serving on a humanitarian mission.

But now, as the embattled African state struggles with a long-running jihadi insurgency, the Trump administration has authorized the deployment of U.S. soldiers to Somalia for the first time since 1994. (U.S. military and counterterrorism advisors have been present in Somalia for several years, but regular troops have not.)

The U.S. military command for Africa (AFRICOM) confirmed to Voice of America on Thursday that American soldiers from 101st Airborne Division had been deployed at the request of the Somali federal government to carry out a train-and-equip mission until September. An AFRICOM spokeswoman later confirmed the deployment to AFP and said that “a few dozen” troops would help Somalia’s army to “better fight Al-Shabab” and would conduct “security force assistance,” without elaborating on what this might entail.

Things are quite different in Somalia now from the time of the so-called Black Hawk Down incident, when the country had been plunged into civil war after overthrowing its strongman leader Siad Barre in 1991. The country has a recently-elected federal government, led by a dual U.S.-Somali national who has thrown down the gauntlet to Al-Shabab, an extremist militant group with ties to Al-Qaeda. Yet some of the same scourges that roiled Somalia in the early 1990s—including a harrowing drought that is threatening to escalate into famine; clan rivalries; and the instability caused by frequent bombings in the capital—remain.

President Donald Trump has outlined defeating “radical Islamic terror groups” as the foremost foreign policy goal of his administration. But given the U.S. leader’s insistence on putting American interests first, the Somalia deployment raises the question of what threat Al-Shabab poses to the U.S.

“The question is a fair one. From the U.S. perspective, do we really have a dog in this hunt?” says Kenneth Menkhaus, professor of political science at Davidson College and a Somalia expert. “That’s one of the things that the Trump administration is going to have to explain to its constituency.”

U.S. military personnel have been involved in Somalia’s battle with Al-Shabab for over a decade. An AFRICOM spokesperson recently told Newsweek that around 100 personnel were deployed in Somalia; the focus of their mission was to train African Union and Somali forces, but the U.S. also regularly carries out drone strikes on the militant group. U.S. forces have carried at least 42 strikes in Somalia since 2007, killing up to 449 people—including up to 28 civilians—according to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism.

The State Department classified Al-Shabab as a foreign terrorist organization in 2008. Early U.S. operations in Somalia aimed at surgically taking out high-value targets associated with the group and Al-Qaeda’s East African franchise, which preceded Al-Shabab and orchestrated the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing more than 200 people.

But this tactic has changed in recent months and years, according to Roland Marchal, an Al-Shabab expert and research fellow at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. According to Marchal, the U.S. has now widened the scope of its operations to include Al-Shabab training camps and fighters on the move; in March 2016, for example, the Pentagon took responsibility for strikes on an Al-Shabab training camp that killed more than 150 people. Marchal says that this tactic has likely been motivated by the seeming inability of the 22,000-strong African Union force in Somalia (AMISOM) to keep Al-Shabab at bay: The militants have frequently targeted AMISOM bases in recent months and the group has taken over territorywhere AMISOM troops have pulled out.

According to Marchal, the deployment of a few dozen more U.S. troops is unlikely to have a determinative effect on the outcome of the war on Al-Shabab. “What is the aim of the war? Is it just to kill Al-Shabab fighters? If you kill 100, 200 Al-Shabab fighters, it needs only three or four months to get this number of fighters back,” Marchal adds. Only a political solution, he says, can end the insurgency, and that can only be instigated by the Somali federal and state governments.

There is also the risk of U.S. forces being manipulated by opposing sides in Somalia’s complex, clan-based society. In September 2016, security forces in the semi-autonomous state of Puntland requested U.S. strikes on opposition fighters believed to be Al-Shabab; the U.S. obliged, killing 10 armed fighters. But it later transpired that the fighters were not Al-Shabab—they were from another region of Somalia that is in conflict with Puntland.

Besides the 1998 embassy bombings, Al-Shabab has not launched any successful attacks on U.S. interests in the region. But the group has called for attacks in the West—and even used Trump in a 2016 propaganda video—and tens of American citizens have joined or attempted to join the group, many coming from Minneapolis, which has one of the largest concentrations of Somali immigrants in the United States. The deployment of extra U.S. troops to Somalia follows a presidential directive in March that loosened the conditions for airstrikes against Al-Shabab in Somalia, a sign that the Trump administration may wish to expedite its military efforts against the group. (This was also suggested by a set of leaked queries from the Trump transition team to the State Department in January, which included the question: “We’ve been fighting Al-Shabab for a decade, why haven’t we won?”)

Ultimately, the Trump administration—like previous administrations—is aware that U.S. firepower alone cannot defeat the militant group, according to Menkhaus. “I’ve never met an American government official, whether civilian or military, who believes that Al-Shabab can be defeated outright just by U.S. military [action in Somalia],” he says.

Instead, the deployment constitutes an attempt to help Somalia help itself. “The idea is if you can bottle them up, degrade their leadership and buy time for the Somali federal government and regional states to establish themselves,” says Menkhaus, “then this problem will largely take care of itself.”

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Briefing Room

US military responsible for instability in Somalia: Analyst

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The US is increasing its military involvement in Africa to destabilize the continent’s governments and gain control over their resources and strategic ports, an African American researcher in Washington says.

The Pentagon revealed on Thursday that the United States now has some 500 troops on the ground in Somalia even as it denies a “build-up” of forces in the African country.

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has also said that there have been 28 US airstrikes in Somalia this year, mostly from drones and against purported al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants.

“Somalia is a very important area for both American businesses as well as a means to counter-balance against its regional adversaries,” Randy Short told Press TV on Friday.

“In the case of Somalia, Somalia is rich in oil, gold and it has got its ports in the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean,” Short said.

“Any instability in Somalia is Unites States’ fault,” he said. “The United States has been tampering with Somalia for the better part of thirty five years.”
The US is deploying militant groups and mercenaries to Africa to “create problems to justify the armed presence of US forces in places like Niger, the Central African Republic, Mali and of course Somalia,” he said.

The US military recently conducted six straight days of airstrikes in Somalia — from last Thursday to Tuesday, according to US media.

AFRICOM was established in 2008 under then US President George W. Bush and strengthened and enhanced the following year during the presidency of Barack Obama.

The force has been operating in at least 35 countries across the African continent.

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Briefing Room

Saving Somalia Through Debt Relief

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KEVIN WATKINS

Kevin Charles Watkins is the Chief Executive of Save the Children UK

Somalia needs humanitarian aid to stem its short-term suffering, but that cash will not break the country’s deadly cycles of drought, hunger, and poverty. To do that, the IMF must forgive Somalia’s crushing debt, just as it has for nearly every other heavily indebted poor country.

LONDON – Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, once asked his country’s creditors a blunt question: “Must we starve our children to pay our debts?” That was in 1986, before the public campaigns and initiatives that removed much of Africa’s crushing and unpayable debt burden. But Nyerere’s question still hangs like a dark cloud over Somalia.

Over the last year, an unprecedented humanitarian effort has pulled Somalia back from the brink of famine. As the worst drought in living memory destroyed harvests and decimated livestock, almost $1 billion was mobilized in emergency aid for nutrition, health, and clean water provision. That aid saved many lives and prevented a slow-motion replay of the 2011 drought, when delayed international action resulted in nearly 260,000 deaths.

Yet, even after these recent efforts, Somalia’s fate hangs in the balance. Early warning systems are pointing to a prospective famine in 2018. Poor and erratic rains have left 2.5 million people facing an ongoing food crisis; some 400,000 children live with acute malnutrition; food prices are rising; and dry wells have left communities dependent on expensive trucked water.

Humanitarian aid remains essential. Almost half of Somalia’s 14 million people need support, according to UN agencies. But humanitarian aid, which is often volatile and overwhelmingly short-term, will not break the deadly cycles of drought, hunger, and poverty. If Somalia is to develop its health and education systems, economic infrastructure, and the social protection programs needed to build a more resilient future, it needs predictable, long-term development finance.

Debt represents a barrier to that finance. Somalia’s external debt is running at $5 billion. Creditors range from rich countries like the United States, France, and Italy, to regional governments and financial institutions, including the Arab Monetary Fund.

But Somalia’s debt also includes $325 million in arrears owed to the International Monetary Fund. And there’s the rub: countries in arrears to the IMF are ineligible to receive long-term financing from other sources, including the World Bank’s $75 billion concessional International Development Association (IDA) facility.

Much of the country’s current debt dates to the Cold War, when the world’s superpower rivalry played out in the Horn of Africa. Over 90% of Somalia’s debt burden is accounted for by arrears on credit advanced in the early 1980s, well before two-thirds of today’s Somali population was born.

Most of the lending then was directed to President Siad Barre as a reward for his abandonment of the Soviet Union and embrace of the West. Military credits figured prominently: over half of the $973 million in US debt is owed to the Department of Defense. Somalia got state-of-the-art weaponry, liberally financed by loans. The IMF was nudged into guaranteeing repayment through a structural adjustment program.  Repaying the debt today would cost every Somali man, woman, and child $361.

None of this would matter if Somalia had qualified for debt reduction. The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), created in response to the great debt relief campaigns of the 1990s, has written off around $77 billion in debt for 36 countries. Somalia is one of just three countries that have yet to qualify. The reason: the arrears owed to the IMF. (Eritrea and Sudan have also not qualified, for similar reasons).

The IMF view is that Somalia, like earlier HIPC beneficiaries, should establish a track record of economic reform. This will delay a full debt write-off for up to three years, exclude Somalia from long-term development finance, and reinforce its dependence on emergency aid. Other creditors have endorsed this approach through silent consent.

Somalia deserves better. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government has demonstrated a commitment to economic reform, improved accountability, and transparency. For two years, it has adhered to an IMF program, achieving targets for improving public finance and the banking sector. More needs to be done, especially in terms of domestic resource mobilization. But this is the first Somali government to provide the international community with a window of opportunity to support recovery. We must capitalize on it.

Waiting three more years as Somalia ticks the IMF’s internal accounting boxes would be a triumph of bureaucratic complacency over human needs. Without international support, Somalia’s government lacks the resources needed to break the deadly cycle of drought, hunger, and poverty.

Somalia’s children need investment in health, nutrition, and schools now, not at some point in the indefinite future. Investing in irrigation and water management would boost productivity. With drought-related livestock and crop losses estimated at around $1.5 billion, government-supported cash payment programs would help aid recovery, strengthen resilience, and build trust.

The benefits of these investments would extend to security. Providing the hope that comes with education, health care, and the prospect of a job is a far more effective weapon than a drone to combat an insurgency that feeds on despair, poverty, joblessness, and the absence of basic services.

There is an alternative to IMF-sponsored inertia on debt relief. The World Bank and major creditors could convene a creditor summit to agree to terms for a prompt debt write-off. More immediately, the World Bank could seek its shareholders’ approval for a special mechanism – a “pre-arrears clearance grant” – that would enable Somalia to receive IDA financing. There is a precedent for this: In 2005, the US championed World Bank financing for Liberia, which at the time had significant IMF debt after emerging from civil war.

The technicalities can be discussed and the complexities resolved. But we should not lose sight of what is at stake. It is indefensible for the IMF and other creditors to obstruct Somalia’s access to financing because of arrears on a debt incurred three decades ago as much through reckless lending as through irresponsible borrowing.

Somalia’s children played no part in creating that debt. They should not have to pay for it with their futures.

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Briefing Room

UNSC votes to extend sanctions on Eritrea and Somalia

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The United Nations Security Council has voted to extend an arms embargo imposed on Eritrea and Somalia for allegedly supporting al-Shabaab. The decision comes barely a week after a panel of experts called for the lifting of sanctions particularly on Somalia. CGTN’s Liling Tan filed this report from New York

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