[Marxism] Obama relies on mercenaries in Somalia

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 11 08:08:30 MDT 2011


NY Times August 10, 2011
U.S. Relies on Contractors in Somalia Conflict
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, MARK MAZZETTI and ERIC SCHMITT

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Richard Rouget,  a gun for hire over two 
decades of bloody African conflict, is the unlikely face of the 
American campaign against militants in Somalia.

A husky former French Army officer, Mr. Rouget, 51, commanded a 
group of foreign fighters during Ivory Coast’s civil war in 2003, 
was convicted by a South African court of selling his military 
services and did a stint in the presidential guard of the Comoros 
Islands, an archipelago plagued by political tumult and coup attempts.

Now Mr. Rouget works for Bancroft Global Development, an American 
private security company that the State Department has indirectly 
financed to train African troops who have fought a pitched urban 
battle in the ruins of this city against the Shabab, the Somali 
militant group allied with Al Qaeda.

The company plays a vital part in the conflict now raging inside 
Somalia, a country that has been effectively ungoverned and mired 
in chaos for years. The fight against the Shabab, a group that 
United States officials fear could someday carry out strikes 
against the West, has mostly been outsourced to African soldiers 
and private companies out of reluctance to send American troops 
back into a country they hastily exited nearly two decades ago.

“We do not want an American footprint or boot on the ground,” said 
Johnnie Carson, the Obama administration’s top State Department 
official for Africa.

A visible United States military presence would be provocative, he 
said, partly because of Somalia’s history as a graveyard for 
American missions — including the “Black Hawk Down” episode in 
1993, when Somali militiamen killed 18 American service members.

Still, over the past year, the United States has quietly stepped 
up operations inside Somalia, American officials acknowledge. The 
Central Intelligence Agency, which largely finances the country’s 
spy agency, has covertly trained Somali intelligence operatives, 
helped build a large base at Mogadishu’s airport — Somalis call it 
“the Pink House” for the reddish hue of its buildings or 
“Guantánamo” for its ties to the United States — and carried out 
joint interrogations of suspected terrorists with their 
counterparts in a ramshackle Somali prison.

The Pentagon has turned to strikes by armed drone aircraft to kill 
Shabab militants and recently approved $45 million in arms 
shipments to African troops fighting in Somalia.

But this is a piecemeal approach that many American officials 
believe will not be enough to suppress the Shabab over the long 
run. In interviews, more than a dozen current and former United 
States officials and experts described an overall American 
strategy in Somalia that has been troubled by a lack of focus and 
internal battles over the past decade. While the United States has 
significantly stepped up clandestine operations in Pakistan and 
Yemen, American officials are deeply worried about Somalia but 
cannot agree on the risks versus the rewards of escalating 
military strikes here.

“I think that neither the international community in general nor 
the U.S. government in particular really knows what to do with the 
failure of the political process in Somalia,” said J. Peter Pham, 
director of the Africa program at the Atlantic Council, a 
Washington research institution.

For months, officials said, the State Department has been at odds 
with some military and intelligence officials about whether 
striking sites suspected of being militant camps in Somalia’s 
southern territories or carrying out American commando raids to 
kill militant leaders would significantly weaken the Shabab — or 
instead bolster its ranks by allowing the group to present itself 
as the underdog against a foreign power.

Lauren Ploch, an East Africa expert at the Congressional Research 
Service, said that the Obama administration was confronted with 
many of the same problems that had vexed its predecessors — 
“balancing the risks of an on-the-ground presence” against the 
risks of using “third parties” to carry out the American strategy 
in Somalia.

Teaching Fighting Skills

The Shabab has already shown its ability to strike beyond Somalia, 
killing dozens of Ugandans last summer in a suicide attack that 
many believe was a reprisal for the Ugandan government’s decision 
to send troops to Somalia. Now, though, thanks in part to 
Bancroft, the private security company, the militants have been 
forced into retreat. Several United Nations and African Union 
officials credit the work of Bancroft with improving the fighting 
skills of the African troops in Somalia, who this past weekend 
forced Shabab militants to withdraw from Mogadishu, the capital, 
for the first time in years.

Like other security companies in Somalia, Bancroft has thrived as 
a proxy of sorts for the American government. Based in a mansion 
along Embassy Row in Washington, Bancroft is a nonprofit 
enterprise run by Michael Stock, a 34-year-old Virginia native who 
founded the company not long after graduating from Princeton in 
1999. He used some of his family’s banking fortune to set up 
Bancroft as a small land-mine clearing operation.

In recent years, the company has expanded its mission in Somalia 
and now runs one of the only fortified camps in Mogadishu — a 
warren of prefabricated buildings rimmed with sand bags a stone’s 
throw from the city’s decrepit, seaside airport.

The Bancroft camp operates as a spartan hotel for visiting aid 
workers, diplomats and journalists. But the company’s real income 
has come from the United States government, albeit circuitously. 
The governments of Uganda and Burundi pay Bancroft millions of 
dollars to train their soldiers for counterinsurgency missions in 
Somalia under an African Union banner, money that the State 
Department then reimburses to the two African nations. Since 2010, 
Bancroft has collected about $7 million through this arrangement.

Both American and United Nations officials said that Bancroft’s 
team in Mogadishu — a mixture of about 40 former South African, 
French and Scandinavian soldiers who call themselves “mentors” — 
has steadily improved the skills of the African troops and cut 
down on civilian casualties by persuading the troops to stop 
lobbing artillery shells into crowded parts of Mogadishu. One 
Western consultant who works with the African Union credits 
Bancroft with helping “turn a bush army into an urban fighting force.”

The advisers typically work from the front lines — showing the 
troops how to build sniper pits or smash holes in walls to move 
between houses.

“Urban fighting is a war of attrition, you nibble, nibble, 
nibble,” said Mr. Rouget, the Bancroft contractor. Last year, he 
was wounded in Mogadishu when a piece of shrapnel from a Shabab 
rocket explosion sliced through his thigh.

Still, he seems to thoroughly enjoy his work. “Give me some 
technicals” — a term for heavily armed pickup trucks — “and some 
savages and I’m happy,” he joked.

Privatizing War

Some critics view the role played by Mr. Rouget and other 
contractors as a troubling trend: relying on private companies to 
fight the battles that nations have no stomach for. Some American 
Congressional officials investigating the money being spent for 
operations in Somalia said that opaque arrangements like those for 
Bancroft — where money is passed through foreign governments — 
made it difficult to properly track how the funds were spent.

It also makes it harder for American officials to monitor who is 
being hired for the Somalia mission. In Bancroft’s case, some 
trainers are veterans of Africa’s bush wars who sometimes use 
aliases in the countries where they fought. Mr. Rouget, for 
example, used the name Colonel Sanders.

He denies that he is a mercenary, and said that his conviction in 
a South African court was “political,” more a “regulatory 
infraction” than a crime. He added that the French government, 
which sent peacekeeping troops to Ivory Coast, was well aware of 
his activities there.

Mr. Stock, Bancroft’s president, also flatly rejects the idea that 
his employees are mercenaries, insisting that the trainers do not 
participate in direct combat with Shabab fighters and are 
supported by legitimate governments.

“Mercenary activity is antithetical to the fundamental purposes 
for which Bancroft exists,” he said, adding that the company “does 
not engage in covert, clandestine or otherwise secret activities.”

He did say, though, that there is only a small pool of people 
Bancroft can hire who have experience fighting in African wars.

In recent years, according to a United Nations report, many 
companies have waded into Somalia’s chaos with contracts to 
protect Somali politicians, train African troops and build a 
combat force to battle armed Somali pirates.

The report provides new details about an operation by the South 
African firm Saracen International to train a 1,000-member 
antipiracy militia for the government of Puntland, a 
semiautonomous region in northern Somalia, effectively creating 
“the best-equipped indigenous military force anywhere in Somalia.” 
Using shell companies, some of which the United Nations report 
links to Erik Prince, who founded the Blackwater Worldwide 
security company, Saracen secretly shipped military equipment — 
which the report says violated an arms embargo — into northern 
Somalia on cargo planes leaving from Uganda and the United Arab 
Emirates. Several American officials have said that the Emirates, 
concerned about the piracy epidemic, have been secretly financing 
the Saracen operation.

Aid From the Pentagon

The Pentagon has recently told Congress that it plans to send 
nearly $45 million worth of military equipment to bolster the 
Ugandan and Burundian troops. The arms package includes transport 
trucks, body armor, night vision goggles and even four small drone 
aircraft that the African troops can use to spy on Shabab positions.

Unlike regular Somali government troops, the C.I.A.-trained Somali 
commandos are outfitted with new weapons and flak jackets, and are 
given sunglasses and ski masks to conceal their identities. They 
are part of the Somali National Security Agency — an intelligence 
organization financed largely by the C.I.A. — which answers to 
Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. Many in Mogadishu, 
though, believe that the Somali intelligence service is building a 
power base independent of the weak government.

One Somali official, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, 
said that the spy service was becoming a “government within a 
government.”

“No one, not even the president, knows what the N.S.A. is doing,” 
he said. “The Americans are creating a monster.”

The C.I.A. Plays a Role

The C.I.A. has also occasionally joined Somali operatives in 
interrogating prisoners, including Ahmed Abdullahi Hassan, a 
Kenyan arrested in Nairobi in 2009 on an American intelligence tip 
and handed over to Somalia by the Kenyans. The C.I.A. operations 
in Somalia were first reported last month by the magazine The Nation.

An American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity 
because of restrictions against discussing relationships with 
foreign intelligence services, said that agency officers had 
questioned Mr. Hassan in a Somali prison under strict 
interrogation rules.

“The host country must give credible assurances that suspects will 
be treated humanely,” the official said, and intelligence 
officials “must be convinced that the individual in custody has 
time-sensitive information about terrorist operations targeting 
U.S. interests.”

A C.I.A. spokeswoman said that the spy agency was not holding 
suspects in secret American prisons, as it did in the years after 
the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The C.I.A. does not run prisons in Somalia or anywhere else, 
period,” said the spokeswoman, Marie Harf. “The C.I.A.’s detention 
and interrogation program ended over two and a half years ago.”

In Washington, American officials said debates were under way 
about just how much the United States should rely on clandestine 
militia training and armed drone strikes to fight the Shabab. Over 
the past year, the American Embassy in Nairobi, according to one 
American official, has  become a hive of military and intelligence 
operatives who are “chomping at the bit” to escalate operations in 
Somalia. But Mr. Carson, the State Department official, has 
opposed the drone strikes because of the risk of turning more 
Somalis toward the Shabab, according to several officials.

In a telephone interview, he played down any bureaucratic 
disagreements and rejected criticism that America’s approach 
toward Somalia had been ad hoc. It is a country with historically 
difficult problems, he said, and the American support to the 
African peacekeepers has helped beat back the Shabab’s forces.

And as for the rest of southern Somalia, still firmly in the 
Shabab’s hands?

“One step at a time, he said. “One step at a time.”

Mr. Stock, Bancroft’s president, said that bickering in Washington 
about how to contain the Shabab threat had made the American 
government even more dependent on companies like his.

As he put it, “We’re the only game in town.”

Jeffrey Gettleman reported from Mogadishu, and Mark Mazzetti and 
Eric Schmitt from Washington.




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