March 3, 2008

More East African fun in the sun

East Africa keeps popping up in the news:

Americans Fire Missiles Into Somalia


NAIROBI, Kenya — American naval forces fired missiles into southern Somalia on Monday, aiming at what the Defense Department called terrorist targets.

Residents reached by telephone said the only casualties were three wounded civilians, three dead cows, one dead donkey and a partly destroyed house.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman in Washington, said the target was a “known Al Qaeda terrorist.”

The missile strike was aimed at Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan born in 1979 who is wanted by the F.B.I. for questioning in the nearly simultaneous attacks on a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, and on an Israeli airliner taking off from there, in 2002, said three American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the strike or its details.

One American military official said the naval attack on Monday was carried out with at least two Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from a submarine. The official said the missiles were believed to have hit their targets. Witnesses on the ground, though, described the attack differently.

“I did not know from where they were launched, but what I know is that they hit a house in this town,” said Muhammad Amin Abdullahi Osman, a resident of Dhobley, a small town in southern Somalia near the Kenyan border.

Mr. Muhammad said two missiles slammed into the house around 3:30 a.m.

Monday’s attack was not the first time that American forces had fired missiles into Somalia or used airstrikes in pursuit of what the Pentagon has called terrorist operatives in the country. They did so at least three times last year.

Dhobley lies in the growing swath of southern Somalia that seems to be falling under the control of the country’s Islamist movement once again. The Islamists rose to power in 2006 and brought a degree of law and order to Somalia for the first time since the central government collapsed in 1991.

But they were driven out of Somalia in late 2006 and early 2007 by a joint Ethiopian-American offensive. The Americans and Ethiopians said Somalia’s Islamists were harboring Qaeda terrorists, including men connected to the 1998 embassy bombings. Thousands of Ethiopian troops poured across the border, backed up by American warplanes and American intelligence. The Islamist movement then went underground.

But in the past several months, the Islamists seem to be making a comeback, taking over towns in southern Somalia, including Dhobley, and inflicting a steady stream of casualties on Ethiopian forces with suicide bombs and hit-and-run attacks. Efforts by foreign diplomats and the United Nations to broker a truce have failed, and concerns are rising that Somalia could be headed toward another war-induced famine like the one it suffered in the early 1990s.

This kind of (hopefully) carefully-targeted missile strike seems like a better idea than our last big idea: sponsoring the conquest of the furious denizens of Somalia by their ancient Abyssinian enemies. I saw "Black Hawk Down," and the Somalis really didn't look like the kind of people who would passively put up with foreign occupation.

I call the Ethiopian invasion our Prester John strategy because it's a revival of the grand strategy of Christendom in the post-Crusades era: to form an alliance with the Christian king of Abyssinia, Priest John, to open a second front against the Musselmen. Negotiations went on for centuries -- we have a record from 1306 in Italy of a diplomatic delegation of 30 Ethiopians on their way to see the Pope; and the king of Portugal sent a delegation to Ethiopia in the 1520s that spent six years there and returned with a letter from Prester John asking for technological assistance to enable him to make war more effectively on the Muslims.

Allying with Ethiopia was a cool-sounding idea back then, too, but it proved pointless in the end, and I suspect our latest alliance will too.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

I saw "Black Hawk Down," and the Somalis really didn't look like the kind of people who would passively put up with foreign occupation.

But Steve, "Black Hawk Down" was a movie.

Furthermore, the "Somalis" in that flick looked more west African than east African.

Movies -> movies.
real life -> not necessarily same as movies.

Anonymous said...

From Conrad's Heart of Darkness:

Once, I remember, we came upon
a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn't even a shed there, and
she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars
going on thereabouts. Her ensign dropped limp like a rag; the muzzles
of the long six-inch guns stuck out all over the low hull; the greasy,
slimy swell swung her up lazily and let her down, swaying her thin
masts. In the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water, there she was,
incomprehensible, firing into a continent. Pop, would go one of the
six-inch guns; a small flame would dart and vanish, a little white smoke
would disappear, a tiny projectile would give a feeble screech--and
nothing happened. Nothing could happen. There was a touch of insanity in
the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery in the sight; and it was
not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was
a camp of natives--he called them enemies!--hidden out of sight

Anonymous said...

"David Davenport said...

But Steve, "Black Hawk Down" was a movie.

Movies -> movies
real life -> not necessarily same as movies."

But as movies go, it was pretty faithful to the actual events. Do we want to get bogged down there too? For years and years?

"Black Hawk Down" was a good movie. Care for a few sequels? Maybe a weekly TV series? Our government is apparently working on that.

Anonymous said...

Steve, allying with local proxies that have their own interests -- the Ethiopians -- is smart. The ICU had designs on Ethiopia (they wanted to conquer it).

Knocking around the ICU in Somalia was a good move IMHO. They needed payback for Black Hawk Down, and it kept them off balance.

More to the point, how do you think we targeted the guy in Somalia? That sort of thing just doesn't happen. We need local allies on the ground and for now that's the Ethiopians. No need to fall in love with them but they're useful.

We don't have any other alternatives as local help/intel in Somalia. After bugging out in 1993 no one trusts us there locally. So the alternative to working with the Ethiopians is simply allow Somalia to become Afghanistan circa 1990-2001. Which did not work out well for us.

Using the Ethiopians as a proxy is cheap, fast, and limits direct US exposure. As long as we don't fall in love or let ourselves get used for things not in our interest, why not?

Anonymous said...

I saw "Black Hawk Down," and the Somalis really didn't look like the kind of people who would passively put up with foreign occupation.

And who would, outside of the Western world? Pacification is for people who worry about college tuition, 401(k)s, and 30 year home mortgages. The good folks of Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq don't worry about anything beyond making it into tomorrow. And "worry" is sort of a strong term. Sometimes they don't care if they make it to tomorrow, if they can have a good time not making it there.

Anonymous said...

Is there a Bat-signal for the War Nerd? Here we are, lost in confusion, panic and intellectual chaos.

I agree, though, America should stay out of We have no idea what's going to become what. Vietnam is a nice little country now. We can't assume Western IMF reforms nor Sovietization will turn out how we anticipate. Admittedly, during the Cold War, I see, retrospectively, the drive to fight Soviet domination, but now, we can't be fools. I hate Muslim fascistic tendencies, but that doesn't mean "Islamo-fascism" is a threat nor a coherent entity. We got hit by a bizarrely coordinated group of fanatics who were freakishly lucky. If that has something to do with a dictator in Africa...

We should be using huge chunks of our conventional military force budget for third-world propaganda. We should be using our propaganda dollars like Google: here's this, here's that, for no reason, except you become attuned to and dependent on our worldview, because it's the only game in town, after a certain fashion, to begin with. We give and give, as opposed to occupying. People agree: givers are heroes. It's a little late now.

Anonymous said...

Kinda reminds me of the time Bill Clinton was busy with Monica and in order to divert attention shot some missiles into Afghan tents, hitting a few goats in the "behind". Apparently it had something to do with Monsieur Bin Laden. Well, turns out it took a little more than that to get the guy, ... did I miss something?

Anonymous said...

"said three American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the strike or its details."

I cannot imagine that more than 10 people would know about the strike in advance. So of course its easy to find out who these 3 anonymous leakers where. Why is this stuff always transferred through people who "speak on the condition of anonymity"? Why does the DoD not just walk up to the mike and say "we tried to fry so-and-so but instead hit a cow"?

Anonymous said...

Never mind Africa-- I want to know how this is going to play out in Minneapolis. Thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians live cheek-by-jowl there, and by coincidence today I bumped into a heated argument conducted by one of each, both of whom I know well. It was over a minor trespass, the Ethiopian being in the wrong, and I didn't think to analyze the incident geopolitically.

Years ago I saw a Somali end his shift at a guard post and go home, dropping a napkin in the process. I picked up it up to toss it, and noticed that he, in his boredom, had drawn a map of East Africa centered on Somalia-- a Somalia augmented with a large portion of what is now Ethiopia. Oh, well, if we're going to import irredentists, better ones fixated on Abyssinia than Arizona.

Incidentally, the Blogspot "word verification" I'm asked to type in has an eerily Somali look to it:

Anonymous said...

Seems like striking at terrorist camps is a good idea; that much less incentive to start them up. Afghanistan formerly had isteve obscurity, like East Africa now.

I trust authority to bomb, eavesdrop, and torture as approriate. Unfortunately, everyone now knows, because emotional journalists have repeated it over and over and over--and this is the road to truth-- that this is all wrong.

Anonymous said...

I don't consider the fine job the Ethiopians did a year ago of overthrowing Al Qaeda in Somalia for us "pointless", but then, unlike Steve, I think it's a good thing when foreign countries overthrow jihadist regimes all by themselves with no downside for the United States.

These missile strikes don't prove that the Ethiopians failed. If the Ethiopians failed, we would have needed more than just a few missiles.

What is going on in Somalia is exactly the sort of thing the War Nerd would approve of. It's a pity Steve can't be consistent about what the right way to do things is.

Audacious Epigone said...

That really is a conception of the Prestor John tale at its most mature. Its origins are unknown, but trace back into the 12th Century, and it was popular long before the Third began. John was believed to be somewhere out East-east, in southern Asia.

Louis IX negotiated with Geyak Khan (grandson of Genghis) around ~1250with some impression that the Mongolian leader was Prester John. Given that the Mongolian battle strategy was often to obliterate even neutral towns that offered no resistance, the negotiations went nowhere.

Sometime after this (I'm not sure when), it came to be assumed that John was in Ethiopia.

Anonymous said...

"Black Hawk Down" is a really lame propaganda piece masquerading as a film. There were no Somalis whatsoever featured in it nor does the language spoken by the actors even remotely resemble the Afro-Asiatic language Somalis speak. This perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise since no Somali consultants were hired for the piece. Only US military "minders" were hired to oversee the film, deleting scenes they deemed unflattering or too realistic. I mean, the soldier on whom the character played by Ewan Macgregor is based is currently in prison serving time for molesting his own daughter. Of course, the general public does not know this because, in the words of the film's director Ridley Scott, "Black Hawk Down" is a "recruitment movie" and that's, like, so much more important than the truth.