As part of the global war on terror, the United States has followed
a policy in Somalia -- through both military operations and diplomatic
efforts with the international community -- to prevent the lawless
country from becoming a haven for terrorists.
Working in conjunction with Ethiopia in early 2007, the United
States used military force in Somalia for the first time since
1994 in an attempt to kill terrorist suspects hiding in the south.
Officials confirmed a second airstrike two weeks later.
The first U.S. airstrike on Jan. 8 followed a swift Ethiopian
intervention in late December 2006 that drove the Islamic Courts
Union, suspected of harboring al-Qaida members, into the mangrove
swamps of southern Somalia.
Kenyan troops -- also working in military cooperation and sharing
intelligence with the Americans -- sealed off their border with
Somalia while U.S. Navy ships patrolled the coast to cut off escape
routes by water.
The effort revealed a high level of cooperation between the United
States and its regional allies -- especially Ethiopia -- and,
for the first time, a U.S. base in Djibouti was used to conduct
Set up in Camp Lemonier, Djibouti in 2002, the 1,500-unit strong
Horn of Africa Combined Joint Task Force trains regional armies
in counterterrorism efforts.
Somalia became a focus of U.S. counterterrorism efforts after
the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, and
even more of a concern when the Islamists took over, according
to Ambassador Princeton Lyman, a senior fellow for Africa Policy
Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
U.S. officials believed that al-Qaida elements were either part
of the Islamic Courts Union or found shelter under their rule
and that the lack of a central government could provide a safe
haven for terrorists.
For the Jan. 8 airstrikes, AC-130 gun ships took off from Djibouti
after the United States used Ethiopian intelligence to find an
opportunity to strike at terrorist targets. Among the intended
targets were three al-Qaida operatives, including Fazul Abdullah
Mohammed, suspected of organizing the 1998 embassy bombings in
"When you have an AC-130 come into play, it steps up the drama
and brings home, in a very powerful way, the seriousness of U.S.
engagement in counterterrorism efforts," said Stephen Morrison,
director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and
U.S. Officials said the strike killed eight to 10 people with
suspected terrorist ties but failed to kill any "high-value targets,"
despite early reports that Mohammed was among those killed.
According to the Washington Post, a U.S. search team entered
Somalia following the attack to verify the casualties. After the
strike, the Associated Press reported that a small team of U.S.
special operations forces had entered Somalia alongside Ethiopians
in December. Pentagon officials have denied that the United States
plans on sending in a large number of ground troops.
The strike was condemned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
and other international actors.
The shift toward using military force puts more pressure on America's
other efforts in the region, according to Ambassador Lyman.
"It's a big step," said Lyman. "For some, it will put us in the
same category as the Ethiopians and the Ethiopians are not popular
at all. With our military intervention, we also become a target
and that changes our position."
For years, the United States remained on the sidelines of Somalia's
struggle to form a central government and restore peace in the
While America continued to pledge humanitarian assistance to
Somalia, it has not reinstalled an embassy there since the overthrow
of the Somali government in 1991 and conducts any business through
the embassy in Kenya.
In 1992, President George H.W. Bush deployed U.S. forces to help
deliver relief supplies to starving Somalis as part of Operation
Restore Hope. The humanitarian efforts met resistance from Somali
warlords and in a dramatic two-day battle in October 1993, 18
America soldiers were killed in what has become known as the "Black
Hawk Down" incident.
The conflict led to the withdrawal of almost all U.S. troops
by the following March and made the United States hesitant to
deploy more troops to an environment so hostile to Americans.
The State Department's renewed diplomatic efforts in Somalia
came in 2006 after the CIA encouraged a group of warlords in Mogadishu
to join in resistance against the Islamic militias in late 2005.
Around February 2006, the warlords formed the Alliance for the
Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism but despite monetary
support from the United States, were defeated by the Islamists
by June 2006.
The State Department had tried for some time to persuade Ethiopia
not to provoke a conflict in Somalia, according to Lyons, but
began to change its policy in late 2006.
The shift came when Assistant Secretary of State for African
Affairs Jendayi Frazer began voicing concerns about al-Qaida,
linking the Islamic courts to terrorists. "The problem is that
the Council of Islamic Courts is led by extreme radicals right
now, not the group of moderates that we all hoped would emerge,"
Frazer said on Dec. 14, 2006.
The United States also voted for a U.N. Security Council resolution
in December urging the quick deployment of an 8,000-strong regional
peacekeeping force. The vote signaled a major policy reversal
from 2005 when the U.S. delegation threatened to veto a similar
resolution to deploy peacekeeping forces.
When Ethiopian forces entered Somalia, the United States gave
tacit support to their intervention before openly backing the
operation on Dec. 26.
America's strategy of partnering with the Ethiopians -- a country
led by Christians and home to one of Africa's best-equipped militaries
-- bears similarities to U.S. counterterrorism efforts with the
Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, said Morrison.
In Ethiopia, the United States developed an ally in the region
that could act as a boots-on-the-ground force and be used to gather
intelligence without sending U.S. Troops Ethiopia benefited from
the counterterrorism training and loans to buy military equipment.
At the international level, Frazer maintains State Department
efforts in Somalia and led the United States delegation to join
countries in Africa and Europe to form the International Contact
Group on Somalia.
The Bush administration continues to support the U.N.-backed
Transitional Federal Government in Somalia and has encouraged
the country's competing factions to participate in open talks.