Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science at Purdue University, has unleashed a scorching critique of Washington’s internal workings on Somalia. Believing that the present strategy led directly to the Kampala bombings and that no change in strategy has followed, Weinstein concludes, “Washington has no policy, that is, no mediation between vision and tactics, no plan of action.”
While the bulk of his analysis mirrors our own, we aren’t so sure that Washington’s strategy isn’t changing in some form. Weinstein relates a senior meeting on July 14th. One official was questioned “whether there had been a policy shift in light of the bombings,” and responded that Washington will “take a look and see what it is that we need to do as a result of those attacks.”
The reality is that US strategy underwent immediate change after Kampala’s bombings. Whatever US officials said in public and private, the essential fact remained that Washington threw its support behind Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and the rest of the AU. Copious praise flowed to Uganda in particular as it began ramping up its troop levels even higher than the current 5,000, with President Yoweri Museveni aiming for 20,000.
This isn’t a threat. AU forces, comprised solely from Uganda and Burundi, automatically went on the offensive after the Kampala bombings.
Ugandan army and Defence Ministry spokesman Lt-Col Felix Kulaigye warned, "We are one of the most efficient armies in Africa. We can defend our country from anywhere, even within Somalia. Anybody who brings war to us, we take back that war to them. We shall pursue Al Shabaab from Somalia in line with the wishes of the Transitional Federal Government.”
What’s relatively strange about US policy, though hardly surprising, is how much it admits to the wrong it’s committing. Officials claim, “any grander aim is going to take years to address because the problems that affect the country are systemic, structural.” Elsewhere a US official in London recently discussed the strategy to divide the nationalist al-Shabab from the internationalist al-Qaeda.
“We know nothing galvanizes Somalis like an outside influence...if we do something in an imprudent manner,” the official said in a briefing for reporters in London.
And yet this is exactly what’s happening now. Multiple stories from The Washington Post and Associated Press have already highlighted a spike in the AU’s indiscriminate attacks after Kampala. US officials downplayed the Washington Post while denial is also province of the AU. According to the AP, its own internal reports warn, “if indiscriminate shelling continues AMISOM will lose the support of the Somali population. A similar report in June said that AMISOM continues to underestimate the importance of being seen to address this critical issue.”
AMISOM spokesman Gaffel Nkolokosa responded that AU troops, “always avoid shelling of civilian areas. It is not involved in shelling civilian areas even if provoked by the other parties. AMISOM troops undergo thorough training in their home countries before deployment. They are conversant with relevant aspects such as international humanitarian law and as such would not shell civilian areas.”
Now the insanity is clearly displayed. It’s one thing to blame al-Shabab for operating within the civilian population, although blaming a guerrilla for being a guerrilla rarely works on the ground. A counterinsurgent’s mission is to wage a counterinsurgency, not conventional warfare, regardless of how the insurgent operates. Blaming al-Shabab equates to wholly blaming Hamas for the Gaza war.
But to deny any shelling “even if provoked” is so overtly over the top that it reveals exactly what’s happening in Mogadishu. Since Kampala, Ugandan troops are operating as advertised - on the warpath.
And right behind is tacit US support, regardless of the strategy Uganda deploys. All Africa reports that Uganda's neighbors “have pledged soft support should the country choose to go on the offensive,” and so has President Barack Obama. That’s one possibility for Washington, which in typical 9/11 fashion, “involves using the latest outrage to mobilize opinion in the UN Security Council in favor of changing the Amisom mandate from peacekeeping to peace enforcement.”
"These attacks definitely help strengthen the resolve and rationale for a more robust and decisive action in Somalia," said James Mugume, the Permanent Secretary in Uganda's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The other strategy may be more realistic but also more destructive. Rather than the full-spectrum, international strategy or even a regional approach, Uganda has struck a bilateral deal with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to “bypass any limitations imposed by international conventions.” That means less oversight and more death.
We believe it’s safe to conclude a change in strategy is developing. Given that the TFG survives on US fumes, any agreement with Uganda has likely passed through a US green light. A change for the worst, but change nonetheless. Somalia is becoming more unilateral and more lawless in Kampala’s aftermath, ultimately making al-Shabab’s job to “galvanizing Somalis” against foreign forces that much easier. Additional foreign elements should flock too.
This certainly qualifies as action - minus a plan.