efforts of CIA suffer a blow
-- Islamic fighters claimed control over the Somali
capital of Mogadishu yesterday following weeks of
deadly street battles that left hundreds dead and
wounded, dealing a major blow to US counterterrorism
efforts in the Horn of Africa region.
Islamist militia took up arms several months ago
against a secular alliance of warlord-businessmen
that had publicly committed to battle terrorist
groups in Somalia.
Those secular warlords had close ties with Central
Intelligence Agency officials, who were pressing
to dismantle Islamist factions in a hunt for Al
Qaeda operatives, according to analysts and interviews
with Somali warlords.
yesterday said most US-allied warlords had fled
or were fleeing.
has been a critical location for US counterterrorism
activities in the Horn of Africa because of the
possibility that terrorists could set up base and
buy protection in a country that hasn't had a functioning
central government for 15 years. The bombings of
embassies in Kenya
and Tanzania in 1998 and the bombing of a hotel in
Kenya in 2002 are thought
to have been carried out by a Mogadishu-based Al
government has focused on several potential trouble
spots in Africa, including the vast, unpoliced Saharan deserts in west
Africa and sophisticated Islamic networks in South
Africa that produce counterfeit
passports, but none has been as worrisome as Somalia's
Islamist takeover means that the policy and the
strategy of the United States has gone terribly
wrong," said Suliman
Baldo , director of the Africa program for the International
Crisis Group, a nonprofit that works to resolve
conflicts around the world. ``The US
will need to think very quickly [what are] the alternatives
to that strategy" that had depended upon Mogadishu's
two years, CIA officials have traveled frequently
to the Mogadishu area and other Somali cities in hopes of learning more about
and disrupting small bands of Al Qaeda members,
who also operate in Kenya,
Tanzania, and Ethiopia, Kenyan pilots and two Somali warlords
said recently in interviews. US
officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have
said that three Al Qaeda members indicted in the
1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya
were still being protected by Islamists in Mogadishu.
and even in Somalia's semi-autonomous northern regions of Somaliland
covert officers have developed close relationships
with governments and local powers.
southern and central Somalia, CIA officers have
relied on electronic eavesdropping and developing
close ties with various warlords, paying them tens
of thousands of dollars in some visits, two warlords
said in interviews. The two -- Yusuf
Mohammed Said, the ruling warlord in Marka ,
about 60 miles south of Mogadishu, and Mohammed
Dhere , the warlord in
Jowhar, about 40 miles
east of the capital -- along with Kenyan-based pilots,
who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity
of the situation, said US intelligence relied especially
on warlords who controlled airports to monitor traffic
in and out of the country.
this country, the US has been able to do what it
wants to do," Dhere, who said he had extensive contact with US intelligence
officials for more than two years, said in February,
just as the Islamist militias began their battle
in Mogadishu. ``I think that without the US efforts or interference,
the country would fall into terrorist hands."
conceded that US covert officers and Somali warlords
had not captured many Al Qaeda members in the last
three years, but US intelligence efforts ``changed
the environment," he said. ``Now everyone is
under the table and limited in their movements and
officials have long refused to comment on whether
they were paying Somali warlords in the counterterrorism
battle. But one US
diplomat based in Nairobi, Michael
was transferred in April to another posting in Chad after internally criticizing such payments,
according to Reuters.
intelligence officials have either denied involvement
in Somalia, or declined to comment.
Major David Westover ,
spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of
Africa , said yesterday his Djibouti-based operation
``does not and has had no operations in Somalia."
said yesterday it was too early to assess what remained
of US intelligence networks in the aftermath of
the apparent Islamist militia takeover of the capital.
But several pointed out that almost all of the US-backed
warlords had fled Mogadishu,
and those who remained would go into hiding to survive.
recent battles around Mogadishu
claimed more than 300 lives and injured more than
1,700 people. At one point, a warlord seized a hospital.
Islamists come from a variety of moderate and radical
ideological backgrounds, according to analysts,
and were united in the fighting chiefly because
of an opportunity to topple the secular warlords.
Analysts said most were motivated by a chance to
make money, while some were vehemently against US
influence in Somalia.
According to analysts, some of the factions are
predisposed to support Al Qaeda.
has thrived in Somalia
for more than 1,000 years, but the political brand
of Sharia , or Islamic law, did
not take hold until the chaotic period of the early
1990s when local communities wanted improved security
in the face of lawlessness. In Mogadishu, as many as 11 separate courts had been
established by 2004; their leaders formed a single
Joint Islamic Courts administration.
factions were members of Al Itihad
Al Islamiya ,
including hard-liner Hassan Dahir
Aweys , which had a goal
of bringing Islamic rule to Somalia. But others, said the International Crisis
Group in a report last year, hired gunmen that had
no allegiance to a radical brand of Islam.
not one movement," Baldo,
of the International Crisis Group, said in a telephone
interview from New York. ``This is a very loose alliance, driven
mainly by business imperatives. There isn't the
kind of ideological unity that the Taliban in Afghanistan had in the first place."
several outsiders and Somalis were chilled by an
Islamic court's death sentence last month in Mogadishu;
a teenager stabbed his father's alleged killer to
death before a large crowd.
key question now will be whether Somalia's
transitional government, which is based in the western
town of Baidoa, and the Islamists in Mogadishu enter unity talks. Some consider this unlikely because interim
President Abdullahi Yusuf ,
a former warlord, won his seat on an anti-Islamist
interim Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi
appeared to welcome talks with the Islamists in
after last weekend firing ministers who were part
of the secular warlord alliance in the capital.
a turning point for Somalia,"
said a businessman in Marka,
south of Mogadishu, in a telephone interview yesterday.
He asked that his identify be withheld because of
fear for his security. ``We just don't know yet
which way our country will turn."
Donnelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.