Somalia: Do US intervention create more terrorists?

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The United States has a consistent approach to tackling extremism in foreign lands. Bombs drop from the sky, somewhat indiscriminately falling upon innocent civilians and targets identified as terrorist threats.

Reports of extremist leaders being killed by airstrikes are pretty common; far more than those accounting for the innocent lives caught up in the attacks.

It’s a clumsy strategy, to say the least. One US drone attack in Pakistan, 2006, was found to have killed 1,147 people. Forty-one men were targeted in the strike; more than 1,100 innocent lives were taken away.

In Somalia, the country’s long-standing battle against Al-Shabaab is turning a corner, but nobody knows where it’s headed. The Trump administration has relaxed its regulations on where US drone strikes can be carried out. Meanwhile, the Somali national army is preparing for AMISOM forces to pull out of the country.

US intervention in Somalia is increasing as its African neighbours can a back seat. But the US military’s shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach to handling terrorism hasn’t panned out too well in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Syria or Yemen.

The theory that US foreign policy created ISIS (among other terrorist organisations) is a popular one. There’s no denying it had a hand in creating Somalia’s current insecurity crisis either, but the real concern is whether US intervention in the Horn of Africa nation is making things worse.

 

Are US strikes radicalising people in Somalia?

This week, Press TV discussed the issue of US airstrikes in Somalia, asking whether they radicalise people in the country.

The show features David Otto, counterterrorism expert and director of the Preventing Radicalisation and Violent Extremism Programme – Step In Step Out (SISO).

He says US counterterrorism strategies encourage more people to join radical groups.

“When we talk about preemptive strikes – especially when you are talking about drone strikes against targets which you definitely will not be able to tell if they’re actually Al-Shabaab members or they are actually innocent civilians, it becomes a very counterproductive strategy,” he says.

“What happens, in most of the cases, is that you would strike innocent civilians and then it creates a ground for their recruitment.”

“This preemptive strategy doesn’t actually work,” he says, pointing to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen – all of which were further destabilised following US intervention.

 

Thousands of civilians killed by US strikes

The exact number of innocent lives taken by US airstrikes is impossible to know for sure. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism publishes figures of the recorded deaths during US airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

According to its data, almost 10,000 people have been killed by US drone strikes in those four countries since 2010. However, the truth is it’s impossible to know how many lives have been caught up in the attacks.

The only certainty is that the number of innocent lives claimed by US airstrikes is increasing – and it’s doing nothing to prevent extremism. Quite the opposite, in fact. It only contributes the notion that Western powers are the enemy of innocent Muslims; it fuels the recruiting process for terrorist organisations like Al-Shabaab and ISIS.

 

Victims of US intervention

The US pattern of foreign intervention is nothing new. It has been carried over from the cold war era and adopted by the supposed “war on terror”, passed down from George W. Bush to Barack Obama – and now Donald Trump.

This may have started under Bush’s administration but the plan had long since been put in motion already. Then we had Obama, whose public image continues to shine brightly – despite the fact his administration started more wars than Bush’s and carried out ten times the amount of drones strikes.

Not bad for a guy who promised to bring the troops home in his original campaign. Instead, Obama became the only president in US history to lead the country at war for two terms.

Now we have Trump, who is carrying on the legacy – not only in drone strikes but diplomatic procedure. Like his predecessor, Trump is ramping up counterterrorism efforts in Somalia, which means more airstrikes are coming. Then we have his Muslim ban, which he claims is similar Obama’s banned visas for Iraqi refugees for six months in 2011.Trump’s ban

Except Trump’s ban is held against six countries, including Somalia – the same six countries the Obama administration identified as sources of terror.

So while the bombs drop in greater numbers upon Somali soil, the US refuses to accept any refugees trying to feel the violence. The case against drone attacks is pretty straightforward:

 

  • They don’t prevent terrorism
  • They kill innocent people
  • They help radicalise more extremists
  • Each strike costs millions of dollars
  • They cost millions of dollars in damages

 

If the US is serious about tackling Al-Shabaab, the money it spends on drone strikes could be used to help Somalia build its own army. Or, it could be used to help alleviate other challenges that force people to decide between extremism or fleeing the country: drought, starvation, conflict.

Sadly, for Somalia, the US is only real ally it has right now but the cost of accepting US intervention has been seen time and again. The argument that bombs can bring peace is unravelling and Somalia is in real danger of becoming the next big victim of US intervention – if it isn’t already.

 

Featured image: By U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt – http://www.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/081131-F-7734Q-001.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5518219

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.