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Last Updated: Friday, 3 October, 2003, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
Terror fall-out from US Somali failure
By Caspar Leighton
BBC Analysis programme

Scene from Black Hawk
The killings of the US troops was made into a Hollywood film
Ten years ago, on 3 October 1993, Somalia hit the headlines when 18 United States soldiers died in a bungled attempt to capture a warlord in the capital, Mogadishu.

The incident was turned into the Hollywood film Black Hawk Down.

The US troops were part of the 50,000-strong United Nations Operation Restore Hope which ended in failure in 1995 when the UN withdrew.

Today Somalia still has no effective central government and it has been cited as a possible refuge for al-Qaeda operatives fleeing Afghanistan and reports of renewed US interest.

Intelligence reports

In 1993, the country was in the grip of rival armies battling for power after the toppling of President Muhammad Siad Barre and the population was starving.

The then UN secretary general, Boutros Boutros Ghali announced Operation Restore Hope.

Any place where there is no government is potentially a seedbed for terrorism [and so] there is concern about Somalia
Dan Simpson
Former US ambassador to Somalia
But in June, 24 Pakistani UN soldiers were killed in an ambush by militia gunmen. In an increasingly hostile environment, the foreign troops found themselves unable to control the situation and casualties mounted, especially among civilians.

Conditions on the ground worsened and the Americans, who made up the bulk of the UN force, identified one particular warlord, Mohamed Farah Aideed, as the main problem.

It was his men who had murdered the Pakistani troops and he was unwilling to cede control and stop fighting.

Acting on intelligence reports that Farah Aideed would be holding a meeting at a hotel in Mogadishu, the US forces decided to strike.

The operation was a disaster: not only did they fail to capture Aideed, but the Americans lost 18 men and killed hundreds of Somalis in the fighting that followed.

Five months later, the Americans withdrew from Somalia.

Nation divided

Now, largely as a result of the civil war in the 1990s, the individual regions have fallen under the control of different tribal leaders.

And in each region, says BBC Somali service editor Yusuf Garrad Omar, there is a varying degree of law and order, and of basic services.

Dan Simpson, the US ambassador to Somalia in the mid 1980s, says that "any place where there is no government is potentially a seedbed for terrorism [and so] there is concern about Somalia."

Following the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, widely blamed on al-Qaeda, US officials began taking a more concerted look at the whole of East Africa - and in particular Somalia.

US intelligence reports said that Osama Bin Laden himself had travelled to the country several times in the 1990s and sent fighters to join in the Somali civil war.

In exchange he had apparently received permission to establish base camps and training facilities. Somalia was tipped to be the new refuge for Bin Laden after Afghanistan.

Terror attacks

"Immediately after the war in Afghanistan there was substantial fear that al-Qaeda cadres and senior figures would make their way to Somalia to take refuge there," says Jason Burke, author of the book Al-Qaeda - Casting a Shadow of Terror.

But Mr Burke says that did not happen - at least as far as the US knows.

However, Washington's alarm over Somalia as a potential haven for terrorists heightened again in November 2002 when another al-Qaeda-style attack struck East Africa.

Should a senior al-Qaeda operative try and hide there [Somalis] are likely to be more tempted by the vast rewards for his capture than by his ideology
Jason Burke
Author on terror
In two simultaneous attacks near Mombasa in Kenya, a surface-to-air missile narrowly missed an Israeli passenger jet, while a bomb destroyed a hotel popular with Israelis, killing 13 people.

Again, as in the case of the Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings, Washington feared a Somali link.

"The Mombasa attack is still very unclear... there may have been some logistical support from radicals within Somalia but their numbers are likely to be very few and they are in no way representative of Somali people as a whole," says Mr Burke.

Different tradition

Despite Somalia remaining high on Washington's watch list, Mr Burke says there is now little firm evidence linking the country with al-Qaeda.

"There is no tradition of radical militant Islam of the sort that al-Qaeda generally goes along with.

Surveying the wreckage of the Paradise Hotel
The US feared a Somali link in the Mombasa hotel attack
"They are coming from a very different background and should a senior al-Qaeda operative try and hide there they are likely to be more tempted by the vast rewards for his capture than by his ideology," says Mr Burke.

The former US ambassador to Somalia, Dan Simpson says that as a potentially unstable nation with no central government Somalia should still be on Washington's radar.

But alongside the threats from other unsettled and conflict areas of the world, Somalia's importance is relatively low.

"For the Bush administration the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq are much higher priorities and I think they are also absorbing the resources that the US has to devote to that type of problem," says Mr Simpson.

"The US now has a coherent policy of trying to get the neighbours to take some responsibility for Somalia."

At present it is those neighbours in East Africa who are involved in the on-going negotiations to reach some sort of power-sharing peace treaty amongst Somalia's formerly warring factions.

But given the failure of previous attempts at Somali reconciliation, success is far from assured.

The BBC World Service Analysis programme on Somalia can be heard on Friday at 1545 GMT


SEE ALSO:
Mogadishu insecurity worsens
15 Aug 03  |  Africa
Somali tension as mandate ends
12 Aug 03  |  Africa
Analysis: Somalia's powerbrokers
08 Jan 02  |  Africa
Somalis agree government
05 Jul 03  |  Africa


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