June 12, 2007
How many people did American forces actually kill when they attacked refugees fleeing from the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia last January? We know from reports by Oxfam, the Guardian, the Associated Press and Reuters that dozens of innocent civilians were slaughtered near the Kenyan border, including villagers and nomadic tribesmen "mistakenly" targeted by American gunships seeking to kill alleged al Qaeda operatives who may or may not have been among the refugees. But a new story in Esquire magazine -- detailing the creation of America's most recent military satrapy, the Africa Command -- provides disturbing information that the post-invasion killing by American operatives in Somalia was far more extensive -- and deliberate -- than previously known. [Extensive background on the war in Somalia can be found here.]
The Esquire piece, by Thomas Barnett, is a mostly glowing portrait of the Africa Command, which, we are told, is designed to wed military, diplomatic, and development prowess in a seamless package, a whole new way of projecting American power: "pre-emptive nation-building instead of pre-emptive regime change," or as Barnett describes it at another point, "Iraq done right." Although Barnett's glib, jargony, insider piece -- told entirely from the point of view of U.S. military officials -- does contain bits of critical analysis, it is in no way an expose. The new details he presents on the post-invasion slaughter are thus even more chilling, as they are offered simply as an acceptable, ordinary aspect of this laudable new enterprise.
Barnett reveals that the gunship attacks on refugees were just the first part of the secret U.S. mission that was "Africa Command's" debut on the imperial stage. Soon after the attacks, "Task Force 88, a very secret American special-operations unit," was helicoptered into the strike area. As Barnett puts it: "The 88's job was simple: Kill anyone still alive and leave no unidentified bodies behind."
Some 70,000 people fled their homes in the first wave of the Ethiopian invasion. (More than 400,000 fled the brutal consolidation of the invasion in Mogadishu last spring.) Tens of thousands of these initial refugees headed toward the Kenyan border, where the American gunships struck. When the secret operation was leaked, Bush Administration officials said that American planes were trying to hit three alleged al Qaeda operative who had allegedly been given sanctuary by the Islamic Councils government decapitated by the Ethiopians. But Barnett's insiders told him that the actual plan was to wipe out thousands of "foreign fighters" whom Pentagon officials believed had joined the Islamic Courts forces. "Honestly, nobody had any idea just how many there really were," Barnett was told. "But we wanted to get them all."
Thus the Kenyan border area -- where tens of thousands of civilians were fleeing -- was meant to be "a killing zone," Barnett writes:
America's first AC-130 gunship went wheels-up on January 7 from that secret Ethiopian airstrip. After each strike, anybody left alive was to be wiped out by successive waves of Ethiopian commandos and Task Force 88, operating out of Manda Bay. The plan was to rinse and repeat 'until no more bad guys, as one officer put it.
At this point, Barnett -- or his sources -- turn coy. We know there were multiple gunship strikes; and from Barnett's account, we know that the "88s" did go in at least once after the initial gunship attack to "kill anyone still alive and leave no unidentified bodies behind." But Barnett's story seems to suggest that once active American participation in the war was leaked, the "killing zone" was abandoned at some point. So there is no way of knowing at this point how many survivors of the American attacks were then killed by the "very special secret special-operations unit," or how many "rinse-and-repeat" cycles the "88s" were able to carry out in what Barnett called "a good plan."
Nor do we know just who the "88s" killed. As noted, the vast majority of refugees were civilians, just as the majority of the victims killed by the American gunship raids were civilians. Did the "88s" move in on the nomadic tribesmen decimated by the air attack and "kill everyone still alive"? Or did they restrict themselves to killing any non-Somalis they found among the refugees?
Concerning the latter, evidently it is now a capital crime, worthy of instant death by special ops or air raid or drone-fired missile, for any Muslim of any nationality to visit or take part in an Islamic regime which the U.S. government dislikes -- even if, like Somalia's Islamic Councils government, that regime is not at war with the United States and strenuously denies any connection to al Qaeda. This is borne out by the "good plan" to kill "thousands of foreign fighters" who had, allegedly, come to the aid of the Islamic Courts government (just like the thousands of foreign fighters who joined the American-backed jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan). There was an automatic, unquestioned assumption by the Pentagon that these people were to be wiped out to the last man. This does not seem to jibe very well with "Africa Command's" professed intent to win the hearts and minds of Africa's Muslims and prevent encroachment by extremists there.
But then, none of Bush's "Terror War" policies seem designed to produce their ostensible goal. Indeed, a cynic might be forgiven for suspecting that the formenting of extremism, violence and endless, ever-profitable war was in fact the actual aim of these policies.