Dueling narratives on US Spec Ops mission in Somalia

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Dueling narratives on US Spec Ops mission in Somalia

[Editor's note:  the above graphic is from wikipedia, and you don't need to look too far into it, just note that the country is very divided as to who controls what rough areas.]

First, let’s start with the initial reporting on a US Strike in Somalia, where The Daily Beast claimed in an article yesterday that many of those killed were civilians:

THE U.S.-LED OPERATION on Aug. 25 would result in the death of 10 civilians, including at least one child, and become the largest stain on U.S. ground operations in the country since the infamous Black Hawk Down incident in 1993.

In the operation’s aftermath, hundreds of people in the nearby town Afgoye flooded the city’s streets demanding justice for those killed, and survivors on the farm refused to bury their dead until the Somali government recanted its allegations that they were members Al Shabaab, and offered an apology. […]

The details that emerged paint a damning picture of at least one U.S. ground operation in the African nation. This includes U.S. Special Operators firing upon unarmed civilians, using human intelligence from sources widely considered untrustworthy to Somalis in the region as well as government officials, and instructing their Somali counterparts to collect weapons that were being stored inside a home—not displaced on the field in the course of the firefight—and placing them beside the bodies of those killed prior to photographing them. In the aftermath of the incident, according to our sources, American diplomats also pressured the Somali government to bury the unfavorable findings of a Somali Federal Government-led investigation.

A piece in the Military Times notes that AFRICOM disputes the civilian deaths:

U.S. Africa Command said forces supporting an operation Aug. 25 near Bariire, Somalia, killed only enemy combatants, as an explosive story by The Daily Beast raised questions as to whether local villagers were killed instead.

“After a thorough assessment of the Somali National Army-led operation near Bariire, Somalia, on Aug. 25, 2017 and the associated allegations of civilian casualties, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa has concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants,” AFRICOM said in a release.  […]

The military’s investigation into the incident, which has concluded, is classified and its findings cannot be released, the official said.

“I think we still owe a few more answers to the public to refute those claims” raised by the article, the official said, noting that the Pentagon is looking into ways to address the concerns raised by the article.

In fact, AFRICOM even put out a very lengthy piece on just what the US is doing there, which contained a mission statement: “The U.S. response to the challenges in Somalia has been to work with the Federal Government and the Federal Member state administrations, in coordination with the African Union, the United Nations, and other partners working toward a common goal: to support Somali-led efforts to stabilize and rebuild their country along democratic and federal lines.”

The AFRICOM piece goes to great lengths to portray the mission there as one supporting the existing government, which no matter how much spinning one does can most charitably be describe as largely impotent:

Our military actions, to include strikes against the Al-Qaeda-aligned Al-Shabaab terrorist group and – more recently – against a new Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-aligned group, are done in support and with the concurrence of the Federal Government of Somalia.  Our policy is to support Somalia-led efforts to encourage members of the Al-Shabaab and ISIS to defect and pledge support to the Somali Government.  When that is not possible, our military policy to target these groups is in accordance with the laws of armed conflict and in support of our broader stabilization goals.

AFRICOM rightly notes that for the past 30 years Somalia has been, in effect, a failed state, and into this vacuum has been swept all manner of bad actors, including pirates, local warlords, and now more focused groups like AQ and ISIS.  Recent elections are optimistically expected to restore some manner of calm:

The election of the current government, led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who is widely known by his nickname, “Farmaajo,” has given Somalia its best chance for a just and lasting peace in over a generation.  The U.S. Africa Command and U.S. military, in close collaboration with the U.S. Mission to Somalia and U.S. Agency for International Development, are working with his administration across the “3 Ds”:  development, diplomacy and defense.

Again, that may be optimistic, but is at least a start.  The New York Times notes:

Al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa, holds vast areas of rural Somalia after being chased out of major cities in recent years by a multinational African Union force and Somali troops. The group continues to threaten the fragile central government and carry out deadly attacks in neighboring countries, and it was blamed for the massive truck bombing in Mogadishu last month that killed more than 350 people.

Either way, the initial August 25 raid may very well have been a loss for all sides.  Some A-Shabab were killed, but in terms of PR, the Daily Beast article, whether confirmed at some point or refuted, will not be good for local prospects of instilling peace in this failed region.

There’s probably very valid reasons to keep the report classified, but hopefully we can get a little more info on this and (hopefully) mollify some of the people in the area who are not necessarily pro-Al-Shabab but also not particularly favorable towards western intervention.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.