By Tarek Fatah
February 18, 2014
Just when you thought amateur hour had run its full course at the U.S. State Department, events in Somalia and Syria — two war zones where al-Qaida is a major player — show American ineptness has a lot more to offer.
First, came news the man hand-picked by Secretary of State John Kerry to act as the sole conduit for aid to Syria’s rebels, Gen. Salim Idriss, has been dismissed by the very Supreme Military Council of the Syrian “moderate” opposition he was supposedly heading.
Now, with no leverage on the ground, it appears the U.S. has given a walkover to whoever wins the Iran vs. Saudi Arabia proxy war in Syria.
With an insurgency that’s dominated by Islamist factions, including groups with connections to al-Qaida, even the best outcome will leave Syria in the hands of hostiles.
Further south in Somalia, the government that is supposedly an ally of the West has been accused of smuggling Western-supplied arms meant for the Somali army straight into the hands of the pro al-Qaida army of al-Shabab.
The “UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group” last week issued a confidential report accusing the Somalia government of allowing the diversion of weapons meant for its own army into the hands of a leader of the al-Qaida linked Islamist militant group, al-Shabab.
In its 14-page report to the Security Council’s sanctions committee, UN monitors said they had identified at least two centres for arms procurement within the Somali government that were distributing arms to militias not part of the Somali security forces.
The report, obtained by Reuters, pointed fingers at ministers inside Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s government as being involved in the arms smuggling.
“A key adviser to the president … has been involved in planning weapons deliveries to al-Shabab leader Sheikh Yusuf Isse,” the report said.
It also referred to the role played by another Somali government minister in relation to arms purchases from a “foreign government in the Gulf”.
The UN Security Council had imposed an arms embargo on Somalia after the country was plunged into civil war.
However, in February, 2013, at the insistence of the U.S. and despite opposition from Britain, France and the Monitor Group, the Security Council voted to partially lift the arms embargo against Somalia, ostensibly to help Mogadishu in its war against al-Shabab.
At the time, those opposed to lifting the arms embargo warned of the relationship between the al-Shabab and Islamists within the Somali government, but it appears no one paid attention at the U.S. State Department.
Toronto lawyer Ahmed Hussen of the Somali Canadian Congress told me, “Many of us had vehemently opposed the lifting of the arms embargo on Somalia, a country already awash with weapons. We were afraid sophisticated weapons would fall into the hands of clan militias and the al-Shabab. This UN report has confirmed our worst fears.” Hussen says the less reported but more dangerous issue is how the west is training and arming Somali National Army recruits, only for them to then sell their weapons and uniforms on the open market or, worse, to the al-Shabab.
“In essence, we are indirectly arming the very forces that we are fighting against in Somalia,” he said.
Message to U.S. President Barack Obama: Please stop saying, “Al-Qaida is defeated.” It’s not. It’s very much alive, and your policies are helping it stay that way.