Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What Are We Doing In Somalia?

I had several reactions to the Monday strike in Somalia by a AC-130 gunship against members of al-Qaeda.

My first thought was: yeah, that's the way you go after terrorists. Cultivate intelligence, isolate the target, and then call in special ops forces to prosecute it.

But as I read the accounts in the Washington Post and the New York Times, one word jumped out at me.

The targets of this air strike were "suspected" al Qaeda members.

The Post says the operation "may" have hit a senior terrorist figure.

Reuters reported "A U.S. attack plane killed many people with barrages of gunfire in a remote Somali village occupied by Islamists thought to be hiding at least one al Qaeda suspect," and that "…an AC-130 plane rained gunfire on the desolate southern village of Hayo."

A senior source told Reuters "I understand there are so many dead bodies and animals in the village."

We can't, of course, put together an accurate picture of what actually happened based on early media reports, but from what we think we know, perhaps we should ask the question:

Did we just blow a whole village to smithereens to get at targets we think are al-Qaeda members and whom we may or may not have hit?

MSNBC reports that further air strikes were conducted in Somalia on Tuesday, and multiple news outlets state that the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower has deployed to the area.

What are we doing?

We may have become numb to the reality of using air strikes to summarily execute individuals we "suspect" of being bad guys. No matter what kind of "precision" weapons we use to conduct these strikes, the likelihood is that they will kill someone other than the intended targets. Moreover, we've seen numerous instances of similar operations in which the intended targets turn out not to have been at the site at the time we struck it. And even when we do hit the intended targets, we're summarily executing them without trial.

I’m not endorsing this position, but an argument can be made that these sorts of air strikes are the equivalent of walking into a restaurant with a machine gun and blowing everybody away in hopes that you'll rub out a mob boss.

Under what legal authority are we conducting these kinds of strikes?

Is this the sort of thing we can justify under the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress passed in September 2001? The Somali government reportedly gave its approval for U.S. air strikes in that country--but does that make it okay?

We have to accept that our war on terror is going to involve ugly acts that we otherwise would prefer not to dirty our hands with. I just hope that someone, somewhere has worked out how these operations jibe with U.S. and international law.

And I hope that someone isn't Alberto Gonzales.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.


  1. Anonymous3:37 PM

    It seems from these early reports that we are so desperate for some kind of positive return from the GWOT that we have lowered our standards very low with respect to collateral damage and deaths. I seem to remember the same devolution in standards in Viet Nam when in our efforts to track down a small group of Viet Cong we would take out whole villages women and children included on very slim intelligence or just a hunch.
    I truly hope this is not the case and I find it extremely hard to swallow that an entire isolated village in Somalia was completely populated by the bad guys.
    This is looking more and more like another American tragedy to hang around Bush and Cheney's neck.

  2. In the Guardian, a consultant to the International Crisis Group said, "this will just be the latest element in a comedy of errors by the US and a step towards the new Iraq of Africa".

    Full article at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1986350,00.html

    I sure hope not, but it pretty much summed up my first thoughts when I heard about it. When the spin dies down, we'll find out who we actually killed, and how many more "terrorists" we've just created.

  3. Bonnie10:53 PM

    I am so cynical about this administration that I automatically assumed this was a p.r. prelude for the speech to get all Amurkans scared and willing to accept anything Bush says. A few (whether in single or double or triple digits) African deaths is okay to convince the American people that escalation is the only thing to do.

  4. Unfortunately, when speaking of international law in the context of the United States, one is reminded of Josef Stalin's reputed comment about the Pope's objections to some of his actions: "How many divisions has the Pope?" Similarly, it is clear that George W. Bush's response to law is, "how many divisions has the law?"

    Not until the centurions cease obeying illegal orders shall Dear Leader quit issuing them. And thus far, the centurions seem quite contented to obey as many illegal orders as Dear Leader issues.

    - Badtux the Practical Penguin

  5. Anonymous9:17 AM

    Point taken. As to your (rhetorical?) question about legal authority, I believe this type of action falls under the "'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality'" Act of 2002.

  6. Check out Live from the FNDF for a good analysis of why all this cheerleading in Somalia is a bad idea. http://fdnf.typepad.com/live_from_the_fdnf/2006/12/trading_honest_.html

  7. SS,

    Thanks for the link.


  8. The new general of Baghdad actually said it best: "You have to measure the ratio of how many bad guys you take out to how many you create." Youve just declared war on all somali people in the western hemisphere as well. Many of them are undeniably good citizens, while many other are desperados. Youve just created a new terrorist breeding-ground.