Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Somalia: jammed off the radar

I posed a question yesterday: under what authority did we conducted air strikes in southern Somalia last Sunday? The best answer I've found so far is this (as reported in the San Jose Mercury News):
The transitional government endorsed the U.S. operations against the Islamists.

``The U.S. has the right to defend itself and bomb terrorists they say are responsible for the bombing of their embassies,'' President Abdullahi Yusuf said in the Somalian capital, Mogadishu.

The embassies Yusuf referred to were the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which were bombed in 1998. The bombings are thought to have been planned by senior al-Qaeda leader Fazul Abdullah Muhammad, who was an intended target of the U.S. air strikes. No one has confirmed whether Muhammad or any other al-Qaeda members were killed in the strikes.

The strikes were part of an air-land-sea operation against al-Qaeda conducted by the U.S., Kenya, Ethiopia and the transitional Somali government. A press release at the Department of Defense says that U.S. Navy ships off the coast will stop vessels and search them for al-Qaeda terrorists attempting to leave Somalia.

According to the Boston Globe, a U.S. military official said that U.S. special forces accompanied Ethiopian troops into Somalia two weeks ago.

I suppose it's legal for U.S. ships to conduct maritime intercept operations in territorial waters at a host nation's invitation (generally speaking, "territorial waters" extend to 25 nautical miles from a country's coastline), just as I'm pretty sure it's legal for special forces to enter a country with that country's permission. And U.S. Standing Rules of Engagement allow U.S. forces the right to defend themselves in all circumstances.

But an air strike is an offensive combat operation, and authority for that sort of thing has to come from the top of the chain of command.

War Powers

The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress in September 2001 states:
That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

It doesn't sound as if the al-Qaeda terrorists targeted in Somalia are suspected of having had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks.

The War Powers Act of 1973 was a joint resolution passed by the legislature…
…to fulfill the intent of the framers of the Constitution of the United States and insure that the collective judgment of both the Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicate by the circumstances, and to the continued use of such forces in hostilities or in such situations.

The Act also states that:
The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situation where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances.

Did Mr. Bush consult with Congress before ordering the air strikes in Somalia? No one I know of has answered that question. As far as I can tell, no one has even asked it.

The War Powers Act limits a president's authority to commit U.S. forces to combat to 60 days without a declaration of war or specific authorization from Congress. Will Mr. Bush wait 60 days and the go to Congress and say, "Hey, y'all mind if I keep doing this?"

The Somalia issue has been jammed off the radar by anticipation of Mr. Bush's impending "new way forward" announcement on the Iraq strategy. The timing of the Somali air strikes may be coincidental, but figure the odds of that being the case.

As I said yesterday, I hope that someone somewhere has worked out all the constitutional and statutory concerns regarding our Somali operations, and I hope that someone isn't Alberto Gonzales.

If Mr. Bush has decided he has the authority to bomb any city, town or village in the world that he thinks a terrorist may be hiding in, the United States of America has become the world's leading rogue nation.


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


  1. Anonymous4:50 PM

    Are you serious about "by whose authority..."
    I can clearly hear the savage blood curdling screams of the Islamists to kill/convert ALL into Islam and you want an authority to go after these savages!!!

    Certainly calm and rational talks are more the "right way" but that only works with rational people.
    Would you and your wife/children want to live under e.g. the Taliban rule?

  2. Good Golly, Anonymous. Are you seriously suggesting that unless we let our president bust up every village/town/city he wants to, we'll all be forced to live under Taliban rule?

    Do you have the slightest clue how insane that sounds?

    Well, no. Come to think of it, you probably don't.

  3. Anonymous11:41 PM

    You miss the point looking for legal justification for the Somalia attack. We don't need it. The good old USA has been in more wars in the last 40 years than any other nation on the planet Earth. We have a professional military and what use is it unless we use it. Remember America's My Name; Warring's My Game.

  4. Anonymous4:20 AM

    Q. What's the difference between Iraq and Vietnam?

    A. Georgie boy had a foolproof plan to get out of Vietnam.

  5. Anonymous6:44 AM

    Yes, you have become the worlds largest rogue nation. in fact, you have been so for a long time already, insofar as your laws give you the right to kidnap any foreign citizen at will, jail them without trial and keep them in jail for an indefinite amount of time where you can torture them however much you like. They planned a commando-raid in Norway two years ago to capture a kurd named Krekar, fer the love of god.

    That you now have in effect become a führer-state is something we Europeans have noticed. That your Führer now has the ability to bomb and kill whoever he damn well chooses is just another stone in the building image of the US as a fascist state. This sounds hysterical, but seems to me to be an accurate definition.

  6. HK,

    I think it's less a matter of what our laws allow than the extent to which we can apply the laws to our president.

  7. Anonymous10:54 AM

    Ive been sitting talking with my somalian friends for an hour now, a nice cup of tea and polite conversation. They are very frightened about what the crazy khat-boys might get up to. What Bush doesnt understand is that by bombing the Somali homecountry, he is provoking every single fu&%ing somalian in the western universe. And they do not forget an insult. How stupid can you possibly get? Im utterly shocked and amazed.

    Ive also read his speach. Engaging Syria AND Iran? And Somalia? What is this, Caligula the sequel? Burn, Rome, burn?

  8. Anonymous1:46 PM

    Ignorant Americans! You dont even know Islam and its followers are not just Arabs, African and Persians. Since when do we intend to covert the world to Islam inthis modern times? Your Al-Qaeda is CIA/Zionist mother fuckers and made in the USA.
    War ,weapons and destruction are the only modern day American civilisations contribution to the world. Watch National Geograhic and see the pride in showing off missile technologies, tanks, rifles, explosives ect. ect.
    All the Muslim nations have oil under their feet and all the agression, murder and wanton destruction around the world by USA are on MUSLIM soil because USA is the biggest hypocritical, evil and a shameless ROBBERS and THIEVES who rule over ignorant fools.
    American and Zionist Israel leasders are shamesless ROBBERS of Muslim wealth. Somalia has oil resources and the more lawlessness there, the easier for USA?Zionist to rob the country.

  9. Anonymous,


    What are you yelling at me for?

  10. Anonymous4:06 PM

    [...]A while back, I was reading some excellent commentary at Pen and Sword about our military operations in Somalia.[...]