American Involvement in Somalia

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Last Updated: 07 Dec 2022
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This is a continuation of my research into the American involvement in the Somali civil War between 1992 and 1994. This paper will attempt to fit the historical data into some of the various ideas put forth in the Kriesberg book, though, unfortunately, the war did not really develop in the same way that the book might describe due to the complete failure of the mission and the brief time of actual American combat. Nevertheless, Kriesberg will provide a useful theoretical starting point to understand this conflict and its ultimate lack of resolution. The civil war that the US was supposed to stop continues without resolution to this very day.

1. Escalating the war took place in three rapid stages. All of these were American led operations, though under the cover of “UN Resolutions” which seemed to provide some kind of a moral stamp on the operation. The three stages were all complete failures from every conceivable point of view. Conventionally, they are called, in order UNOSOM I, UNITAF and finally, UNISOM II, which was finally terminated in 1994 (Lyons, 1995, 39). All of these acronyms concern either UN or US projects in Somalia. The first, in 1992, saw the deployment of only a handful of peacekeepers once most of the factions in the country agreed to some kind of mediation.

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But as soon as the grand total of 50 men landed, the factions refused any kind of negotiation and immediately resumed fighting. UNOSOM I was considered a bad joke at best. However, the US took over operations a brief time later under UNITAF, which was basically an American controlled operation. In early 1993, the US sought to intervene under the cover of both UN diplomacy and under the idea of “humanitarian intervention,” a concept where the state intervening does not have any real political capital to gain, but is intervening to save lives and avert famine.

But the reality is that the US was interested in controlling Somalia for one reason: to keep it from falling into the hands of the Islamic movement of General Mohammed Farah Aidid (Lyons, 1995, 39-42). Aidid very quickly succeeded in making himself the most powerful faction leader in Somalia, and in his turn, made himself the anti-American and anti-Israeli leader in the war, holding to a semi-communist kind of Islam that sided with Sudan and, to some extent, Syria in the middle east (Schultz, 2006, 92-94). Aidid also condemned American involvement in the Iraq war.

Hence, very quickly, the Clinton administration dropped both te UN and the “humanitarian” cover and sought to capture Aidid at all costs. Aidid was a threat to both US and Israeli interests for several reasons, dealt with in detail in the last paper: first, Somalia is an oil-rich state, second, it helps control access to the Red Sea, and third, it controls access, to some extent, to the equally oil-rich state of Sudan, where western backed rebels in oil rich Darfur are fighting the Islamic state of Omar Bashir (Kreitzman, 2006).

Hence, Somalia was considered a strategic country on all counts. The American force was fought to a draw by Aidid’s forces in the famed 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. It was not long after that that both UNITAF and UNOSOM II, engaged in at the same time, withdrew its forces from Somalia. 2. There was an US brokered attempt to create a unified faction against Aidid in Ethiopia (then a pro-US power in the region), but negotiations quickly broke down (Lyons, 1995, 40-41 also 45). But this is where the American failure can be more closely analyzed.

First of all, the Americans approached negotiations as a purely zero-sum game (Kriesberg, 2006, 273). The point of negotiations in 1993 was not to end the war, but to escalate with, with a strongly western backed coalition against Aidid. Since there was no real understanding of the ideas of all factions, political or religious, the US also, secondly, stereotyped its opponents: the Muslims were evil, foul and, worse, anti-Israel, and the others were secular and progressive (Kreisberg, 2006, 280).

Hence, both due to the zero-sum question as well as stereotyping, the US could not successfully operate on Somali territory, even if the number of soldiers escalated higher. The zero-sum aspect of this is also connected to what Kriesberg calls “cognitive dissonance” in warfare–that is, an intervening party must convince themselves that the official reason that one is intervening is the real one (Kreisberg, 2006, 157). Of course, no serious person could possible pull that off, and hence, there was a schism in the mentality of the intervention from day one.

Since the real purpose behind US intervention was to install a secular government friendly to American interests, and the “humanitarian” rhetoric went out the window at an early date once Aidid became powerful and popular, the official purpose and the real purpose of the intervention became an “open secret” early on. This could only hamper American efforts. As General Montgomery pointed out, the issuance of UN Security Council Resolution 814, with tacit U. S. support, clearly changed the mission. “For us there was no such thing as mission creep,” he pointed out, “because it was very clear at the outset what we were supposed to do.

” While the resolution was unrealistic and overly ambitious, General Montgomery insisted the taskings in it were clear enough (Hoffman 2004). Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, “mission creep” was the order of the day. Directives from Washington differed from directives from the UN. Washington wanted Aidid, while the UN wanted some kind of humanitarian action. But this is not atypical from upper brass in the military establishment, as much a political position as a military one.

Ultimately, there was a superficial resolution of the problem by saying that the reason the humanitarian disaster occurred was that Aidid made sure the food aid did not get to “the people. ” This assertion has no evidence to underscore it. But even more, the US got involved in an obscure part of the world for oil and Israeli interests. The US had no real comprehension of the religion and culture of either the Islamic or Christian Somalis. The US, as mentioned in the last paper, failed miserably in the propaganda war once Aidid made it clear that the US was an invading and imperial force working at the behest of wealth and power.

This set of ideas helped bring Somalis to his side, and made the US look bad. But American ignorance of the real situation and the perception of US interests among the common population ultimately forced the withdrawal of all troops by 1994 with little having been done. 3. The consequences of this intervention were absolutely disastrous. Since 1992, roughly 1. 2 million Somalis have lost their lives. Starvation is the order of the day, and the war continues without abatement. Aidid himself was killed in a gun battle in 1996, yet his movement remains strong.

But more abstractly, there are indirect consequences. First, the US realized that any serious commitment needed a large number of troops with strong air support. Second, the approbation of the UN, while having no military value, has a strong degree of moral value. Third, Americans are not interested in long term warfare, unless a major event can take place where Americans are killed. Hence, 9/11 gave both the US and the Israelis a green light to take care of their political problems with little fallout (at least in the short run). Fourth, there needs to be a constant threat to keep Americans interested.

Since Somalis did not threaten Americans, it was very difficult to maintain American interest or support. But constructing an ubiquitous web of Islamic terror cells might keep Americans interested. In reality however, none of these lessons were truly learned, and the realist approach to intervention still maintains itself: the US will intervene whenever its financial interests are concerned, which includes protecting the hated state of Israel at all costs to her prestige or credibility. Even more, the UN ended up looking like a paper tiger, a tool of US interests and without a clear agenda of its own.

It was a disaster in every significant way. 4. The sort of warfare one is looking at in Somalia is clearly “zero-sum. ” The US intervened solely out of an interest in African oil and the control of access to the strategic Red Sea. The failed negotiations in Ethiopia produced no results because of American ignorance and the refusal of US negotiators to permit Aidid to have any say in the matter. Hence, it became officially clear (contra the words of General Montgomery above) that the real purpose of the mission was to keep Aidid away from power at all costs.

But in rejecting the most popular and powerful faction in the country and trying to cobble together a coalition of small and non-ideological factions led to complete disaster, and American intelligence completely failed to figure out who was who, and who wanted what (Razack, 2004, 44). The US failed due to the “social psychological” atmosphere that they themselves created (Kriesberg, 2006, 147). Aidid saw through the American purpose from the outset, which permitted him to construct an Islamic nationalist base that proved very popular. That was a nut that the semi-committed Clinton administration could not understand or crack.

Furthermore, organizational structure of Aidid’s forces also changed (Kriesberg, 2006,158). As he became more and more popular, it became clear that his organization became more powerful, regularized and disciplined. As mentioned in the last paper, Aidid began providing his own social services, paving roads and even contemplated minting his own currency, all of which the US was determined to destroy, apparently on “humanitarian grounds. ” 5. In Conclusion, Kriesberg can help us understand the war in Somalia and the American failure in several ways. First, the US stereotyped its enemy and the Islamic world in general.

Second, it approached the war as a zero-sum game, with everything on the secular warlords and nothing on Aidid. Instead of talking with him and respecting his popularity, the US attempted to destroy his very base of power and his functioning administration (Lyons disagrees with this, and claims the US did briefly negotiate with Aidid, pp 43, but it went nowhere). Third, the US entered this war without any real understanding of the mentality of third world people in an impoverished state. Like in Iraq, it was assumed that the US would be greeted as peacekeepers. Instead, they were greeted as occupiers (Razack, 2004, 10-11).

Fourth, the US did not have a clear sense of mission. While official sources held that the mission was truly humanitarian, from the outset it was clear that the purpose was to keep Aidid and all like him from power and make certain a pro-US leader was installed in this strategic country. Aidid, a man of great military and political talent, took advantage of all these failures to eventually drive the US out of Somalia. Bibliography: Hoffman, Frank (2004). “One Decade Later: Debacle in Somalia. ” The Proceedings of the Naval Institute. January. (www. military. org) Kriesberg, L.

(2006). Constructive Conflicts. Rowman and Littlefield. Kretzman, Steve (2003). “Oil Security, War and the Geopolitics of United States Energy Planning. ” Multinational Monitor, Jan/Feb. Lyons, Terrence (1995) Somalia: State Collapse, Multilateral Intervention and Strategies for Political Reconstruction. Brookings Institute Razack, Sherlene (2004). Dark Threats and White Knights: The Somalia Affair Peacekeeping and the New Imperialism. University of Toronto Press Shultz, Richard (2006) Insurgents, terrorists and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat. Columbia University Press

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American Involvement in Somalia. (2016, Jul 12). Retrieved from

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