Is the US setting its sights on Somalia?



Somalia has suffered from ongoing conflicts, political instability and lawlessness for more than three decades. This is largely due to the overthrow of dictator Siad Barre in 1991, which created a vacuum of power that persists today. The lack of a stable central government has led to the emergence of numerous paramilitary groups, clan rivalries and local warlords vying for control of Somalia’s regions.

The country’s deep humanitarian crisis is a combination of violence, corruption, piracy, and terrorism, as well as famine and frequent droughts. Nevertheless, because of its geographical location in the Horn of Africa (rebellious Yemen and its Houthis are literally next door, i.e. across the Gulf of Aden), unstable Somalia is paradoxically an important component of regional and global stability. For this reason, more and more international formats have been created to support Somalia’s aspirations for restoring stability and good governance.

In the early 1990s, for example, the first intervention by the United States and the United Nations failed to restore order and was quickly terminated due to significant international troop casualties. Another attempt was made after the Somali civil war, in 2007, when the international mission AMISOM (a peacekeeping regional mission under the mandate of the African Union with UN approval) began its work. It was created to eliminate the threat posed by al-Shabaab (a radical Islamist group, full name Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, «Young Mujahideen Movement», which has close ties with the well-known al-Qaeda) and to build up the military capacity of the Somali security forces. Moreover, to such a level that they would be able to accomplish their tasks independently, without external support.

The second task was extremely important, because such missions do not last forever. So was this one, which was supposed to end in 2021. However, the withdrawal did not take place as the security threat only grew. AMISOM continued to lose manpower, money and military spirit.

But the interesting thing is different: AMISOM was not the only one involved in Somalia’s problems. Moreover, even now there are as many as three missions from the European Union, and their mandates have been extended up to and including 2024. The spending of the EU budget is in full swing.

The AMISOM mission was completed in 2022. AMISOM’s mandate was extended until it was replaced by the African Transition Mission in Somalia — ATMIS — on April 1, 2022. Perhaps its most important difference is that ATMIS is under the authority of the African Union (AU), which initially suggested its future failure, as the AU is not a strong organization (militarily).

The mission soon ran into financial problems, as did AMISOM. The same cannot be said of Al-Shabaab’s financial and military capabilities, which are increasing every year. The Hiraal Institute, a Mogadishu-based research group, reports that in the past year, the group’s revenues totaled about $180 million and its arms expenditures about $24 million. The financial situation in ATMIS is far from these figures. In the third quarter of 2023, the mission’s financial deficit was about $10.6 million. The AU has not been able to financially support the mission despite the commitments made.

When speaking about the position of terrorist and other radical groups in Somalia, it is also worth emphasizing the fact that they are not only well-funded, but do not lack human resources. The population of this impoverished country, which has no alternative, is constantly joining the ranks of terrorist groups — in fact, it is their only source of income.

The Somali problem must therefore be addressed in a comprehensive manner. Not only to strengthen the capacity of the security services, but also to promote the creation of effective institutions of power and economy. However, both the Europeans and the United States see this country as a springboard for a permanent military presence in a strategically important region.

ATMIS, which includes troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, completed its first phase of drawdown of 2,000 troops on June 30, 2023, and was due to withdraw again on September 30, reducing its military strength to 14,626. The drawdown of ATMIS was originally planned in four phases and should end by December 2024, but given the mission’s lack of success, this is unlikely.

An illustrative example of terrorists strengthening in the region and weakening allied forces is the recent incident involving a UN helicopter: in mid-January 2024, it was conducting a medical evacuation during which it was forced to make an emergency landing in an area controlled by al-Shabaab in central Somalia. The terrorist group kidnapped six people and killed another as he tried to flee.

The failures of the mission and the international community have called into question the role of the African Union in maintaining peace and security on the continent. To be sure, the operations have reduced piracy as well as influence in parts of al-Shabaab. But Somalia is still in a state of chaos. And the world community contributes to this, because there is still an arms embargo on the Somali authorities. The partial UN embargo prevents the federal government from providing resources to the security forces to counter the ever-increasing threat from al-Shabaab.

The situation of failed missions and lack of constant monitoring is very reminiscent of the story of the French missions in the Sahel — Serval and Barkhane. We will not delve into these events, only to note that French troops failed to win a decisive victory over terrorist groups and to implement the national reconciliation agreements between the separatists and the central government.

France then decided to withdraw its armed forces without even completing the mission, leaving the region to the terrorists. The first signs of a possible repetition of such a scenario are already in place: ATMIS announced that it had handed over seven military bases to the Somali government, marking the completion of the second phase of the withdrawal of international forces from the country. The argument for the withdrawal of 3,000 military personnel and the transfer of 7 military bases was the alleged successes in the fight against terrorists. However, it is not clear what kind of successes we are talking about, given the regular attacks of the latter.

Whether the mission will end in December 2024 is difficult to say. Two scenarios are possible here.

On the one hand, it is unprofitable for the Europeans to leave the region, but it has fewer and fewer chances, given the number of conflicts in which it is involved. On the other hand, the Somali Armed Forces are too weak, they will not be able to stabilize the situation alone.

It is quite possible that in time Somalia will become a bargaining chip between the EU and the US. Washington has long made no secret of its plans to «destroy» the EU, its economy and power. Taking into account the November meeting of the US and Somali military commanders, it can be assumed that the US will make every effort to oust ATMIS from the region (preferably with shame, as it was with France during Operation Barkhan), taking a piece of Somalia for itself. Especially since the importance of this country against the background of the ongoing tension in the Middle East is only increasing.

Thus, the US, through such localized conflicts, has succeeded in damaging not only France’s reputation in Africa, but also the reputation of the whole of Europe (Great Britain, in particular).

Can the current situation change in the future? Theoretically, it can, but only after the US elections, the outcome of which will determine a lot of things, including local conflicts in Africa.