Experts warn US air raids in Somalia may be inefficient, harmful

Experts warn US air raids in Somalia may be inefficient, harmful

by Michel Moutot Mon Jan 29, 8:25 AM ET

PARIS (AFP) - US air raids in Somalia to flush out suspect Al-Qaeda operatives may be ineffective in fighting terrorism and risk making the country's Muslim population more radical, regional experts warn.

US military forces have carried out several attacks on Islamist targets or suspected members of Al-Qaeda since the start of the month, but Washington has admitted it is "doubtful" that "any of the big guys", sought for attacks against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, were hit.

Local Somali chief Sheikh Abullahi Ali Molabon has claimed that about 100 civilian nomads died in one raid.

"Somalia's tribal system is very strict," warned French Africa expert Roland Marchal from the Paris-based Center for International Studies and Research.

"If anyone gets hurt in your tribe, either you accept the price for the bloodshed or you kill the assailant."

"These raids will be used to justify a mobilisation against less efficient and less well-protected troops than US planes -- ground troops from Ethiopia or elsewhere," he said.

Marchal warned that the region was potentially facing increasing insecurity because of the US intervention, with foreign troops and international humanitarian workers becoming targets.

Karin von Hippel, a former UN mission member in Somalia, sees sketchy intelligence as one of the key problems in the air raids.

"I'm very concerned about these air strikes," said Hippel who works for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "I don't think the intelligence they're acting on is very very good."

"Over the past decade, the US had very little intelligence in Somalia: they have very few people on the ground and they tend to believe allies that have local grievances.

"A lot of Somalis have local fights and are pretty smart about getting international forces to help them fight their local fights.

Experts believe that in a tribal society like Somalia's with its close-knit solidarity hundreds if not thousands can easily turn anti-American after the death of only one innocent person in an air strike.

"These air raids can only make the Islamic Tribunals (militia) more palatable for the people," regretted Francois Grignon, Africa programme director of the International Crisis Group (ICG).

"Collateral damage provokes hatred and fury among people who suffer from it, all the more so as the Americans have so far not given any proof of their victory: no terrorist leader has apparently been wiped out."

Washington does not seem to care to limit the number of civilian casualties to reduce the risk of revenge killings, Grignon added.

"The aim seems to be to score at home: to show that they do not hesitate to use a big stick."

Hippel, who is regularly consulted by US authorities, said she was told during these meetings, "We have to build as many schools as we kill terrorists," but added, "They don't do that."

"You talk to CIA people, they tell you that of course they perfectly understand that, and then they just go on killing people, so... I don't understand why the rhetoric is not matched by reality."

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