Workers Vanguard No. 1153
19 April 2019
Killer Drones and Imperialist Terror
U.S. Forces Out of Somalia Now!
The war waged by the U.S. imperialists against the Islamist forces of Al Shabab in Somalia has been sharply escalated under President Trump, wreaking further havoc on that already devastated country. The U.S.-led terror campaign, which Washington expects to last for years to come, has driven some 2.6 million Somalis from their homes; untold thousands languish in squalid refugee camps. As a result of military terror, drought and disease, famine stalks the population.
The ground war against the Shabab militia is being carried out by imperialist proxies—more than 20,000 African Union troops and the ragtag Somali army—overseen by some 500 U.S. military personnel. Meanwhile, unmanned and manned U.S. aircraft rain death and destruction on Somali villages in areas controlled by the Islamists. By the Pentagon’s own count, over 250 people have been blown away in some 30 airstrikes so far this year.
That carnage is a direct continuation of Barack Obama’s drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere that symbolized his execution of the “war on terror.” Apologists for the capitalist Democratic Party claim that the Trump administration has lifted Obama-era restrictions on drone strikes by declaring wide swaths of Somalia “areas of active hostilities.” In fact, the rules of engagement had already been loosened toward the end of Obama’s presidency. As the New York Times (27 November 2016) reported at the time:
“In Somalia, the 2013 rules limiting airstrikes away from ‘areas of active hostilities’ still apply for now. But in practice, restrictions are being eased there in another way: Over the past year, the military has routinely invoked a built-in exception to those rules for airstrikes taken in ‘self-defense,’ which can include strikes to help foreign partners even when Americans are not at direct risk.”
Layer upon layer of secrecy and deceit—including adamant Pentagon denials of civilian deaths—keep the sordid reality of U.S. military operations in Africa from the public eye. However, Amnesty International’s report The Hidden US War in Somalia, published last month, details a number of cases of U.S. drones blowing away farmers in their fields, individuals in their vehicles and other noncombatants. Retired brigadier general Donald Bolduc, who was commander of Special Operations Command Africa until 2017, told Amnesty that individuals are considered lawful targets based solely on four criteria: age, gender, location and geographical proximity to Al Shabab, that is, all military-age males in its territory are fair game. During a review prompted by the report, AFRICOM, the U.S. Africa Command, grudgingly admitted to having killed two civilians a year ago.
Today, the U.S. has at least 7,200 troops and 34 military bases in Africa, including the airfield, Camp Baledogle in Somalia. The U.S. bases are mainly concentrated in West Africa, Libya and the Horn of Africa, serving as launchpads for drone attacks and commando raids against those designated “terrorists” by Washington. In one August 2017 raid, documented by Christina Goldbaum in two Daily Beast articles (29 November and 6 December 2017), U.S. special ops and Somali army troops stormed a village, slaughtered ten unarmed civilians and placed weapons near the bodies to disguise the massacre. Such operations are carried out under the September 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that was passed with the near-unanimous support of Congress, including “progressive” 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.
The U.S. military presence in Africa can only sow increased instability, violence and desperation throughout the continent, which has suffered over a century of colonial and neocolonial rape by the European and U.S. imperialists. It is in the interest of the American proletariat to demand the withdrawal from Somalia of all U.S. troops, as well as those of the African Union. While we communists oppose everything that Islamist reactionaries like Al Shabab stand for, we recognize that any military setback for the imperialists aids the cause of the workers and oppressed peoples of the planet. The U.S. rulers’ wars overseas, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, go hand in hand with their attacks on labor, black people and all the oppressed at home. U.S. troops, bases out of Africa!
Imperialism is the most advanced stage of capitalist development, marked by the domination of finance capital. In the imperialist epoch, the advanced powers wage wars of plunder and compete to redivide the world into spheres of exploitation. Opposition to all imperialist wars and occupations is a necessary part of our fight to forge a revolutionary workers party in the U.S. capable of leading the multiracial proletariat to power and sweeping away the capitalist system.
Decades of U.S. Imperialist Depredations
The 1991-92 counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, a bureaucratically degenerated workers state, had worldwide repercussions, not least in the Horn of Africa. That world-historic defeat for the toilers of the world eliminated what had been the only real military counterweight to the marauding imperialists.
At the end of 1992, the administration of George Bush Sr., operating under a UN “humanitarian” fig leaf, sent 25,000 U.S. troops to Somalia supposedly to help its starving population. In fact, the famine coincided with the largest one-year fall in grain production in history, engineered by the U.S. to drive up prices. Democrat Bill Clinton intensified the occupation in the guise of saving a “failed state” with the approval of Congress, including then Representative Bernie Sanders. As we wrote at the time:
“The whole U.S./UN intervention has been cloaked in the rhetoric of humanitarian aid. ‘Operation Restore Hope’ has instead turned Somalia once again into a UN ‘trusteeship,’ with imperialist gendarmes acting on orders from the Pentagon. The American expeditionary force went in when the famine was already dissipating. The real purposes were to allow the U.S. to act as global cops, and let President Bush look tough in the waning days of his presidency. Now with his poll ratings down, Democrat Clinton wants to do the same.”
—“U.S./UN Troops Slaughter Somalis,” WV No. 578, 18 June 1993
By the middle of 1993, U.S. helicopter gunships were regularly bombing Mogadishu. Somalis were brutalized, shot at roadblocks and massacred when they resisted the occupiers. After Somali militiamen shot down two Black Hawk helicopters on October 3, U.S. Special Forces massacred over 1,000 Somalis. But the Somalis fought back, killing 18 U.S. soldiers. After that humiliating defeat, which sparked an outcry in the U.S. and came to be known as “Black Hawk Down,” the imperialists withdrew from Somalia, their tail between their legs. It is a good illustration of how military blows against the imperialists can spur popular opposition at home against depredations of the U.S. ruling class.
After the U.S. withdrawal, a degree of civil order across much of Somalia was re-established by the sharia-based Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an alliance of various Islamists. Its retrograde regime in Mogadishu was toppled in 2006 when Ethiopian troops acting as American proxies—and in the service of the Ethiopian rulers’ own interests—invaded Somalia with the support of U.S. Special Forces and airstrikes. Washington’s stated rationale for the overthrow of the ICU was to prevent the emergence of an Al Qaeda “safe haven.” As it happened, Al Shabab emerged as an offshoot of the ICU out of the fight against the two-year Ethiopian occupation, eventually taking control of Mogadishu and most of southern and central Somalia.
Once again, the imperialists intervened using African proxies. In 2011, an African Union “peacekeeping” force sponsored by the UN, funded by the European Union and commanded by U.S. military “advisers,” ousted Al Shabab from Mogadishu and, the following year, from the southern port of Kismayo. That force, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), continues to sow terror in the countryside. Al Shabab has retaliated with its own heinous terrorist attacks in Uganda and Kenya, targeting soccer fans, a shopping mall and a university campus. In turn, Somalis in Kenya have been the victims of brutal pogroms.
What explains the U.S. imperialists’ longstanding military engagement in Somalia? The answer begins with that country’s strategic location. Just off Somalia’s northern coast is the Gulf of Aden, which leads to Bab el-Mandeb, the narrow choke point through which all maritime traffic from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean passes. Then there is the continent-wide importance of Africa’s natural resources, from copper and other metals to oil. (Exploitation rights to oil and gas deposits off the coast of Somalia are to be tendered later this year). And with the rise of militant Islamist forces in Somalia, largely in reaction to imperialist aggression, the U.S. rulers keep waving the banner of the endless, worldwide “war on terror.”
Not least of the imperialists’ concerns in Africa is the influence of the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state, which for the past decade has been Africa’s biggest trading partner. The most powerful of the remaining countries where capitalist rule has been overthrown, China is the central target of the imperialists’ global counterrevolutionary machinations. It is a crime that the Stalinist rulers in Beijing today contribute over 2,000 troops to UN “peacekeeping” missions across the continent. Such missions are undertaken on behalf of the imperialists.
Imperialist subjugation of dependent countries like Somalia is an obstacle to social progress and promises only further slaughter and misery. The way forward for Africa’s impoverished masses is shown by the program of permanent revolution, developed by Leon Trotsky and verified by the Russian October 1917 Revolution. Trotsky recognized that in semicolonial countries modernization and liberation from the imperialist yoke require smashing capitalist rule and opening the way to socialist development. The continent’s proletarian concentrations—from the industrial workers in South Africa and Egypt to the oil workers in Nigeria and the port workers in Kenya—are crucial to this perspective. As we wrote in “U.S. Troops, Bases Out of Africa!” (WV No. 1122, 17 November 2017):
“The task of Marxists is to forge Trotskyist vanguard workers parties—sections of a reforged Fourth International—that would link the struggle for workers revolutions in Africa to the fight for proletarian revolution in the U.S., France and other imperialist centers. With the proletariat in power on a global scale, technology and industrial development will be tapped to lift the world’s masses out of want and misery on the road to building a classless communist society.”