On May 1st 2017, President Obama officially ended the war in Afghanistan. He removed all US ground troops from the war-torn country and promised their allies to do the same.
That was eight months ago, but the war may be far from over. In fact, US troops are now on the ground in Somalia, at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, an unidentified “force protection” unit and around 550 military contractors there.
Tensions run high in Djibouti, home to the US and other allies’ sole base in East Africa. Of Somalia’s 10,000 residents, US forces already occupy perhaps 70 percent of the capital city, Mogadishu. That’s on top of thousands of US troops already stationed across the region in Africa and the Middle East.
To add insult to injury, Camp Lemonnier is now backed by Afghan weapons supplied by the US-led coalition and equipped with US ammunition. Despite that significant expenditure, an estimated 4,000-5,000 Taliban remain armed there and al-Shabaab, the Islamist terror organization formed in Somalia by al-Qaida operatives, is still very much a threat. The same is true of conflicts in Eritrea, Djibouti, Yemen, Mali, and Uganda – and many thousands more.
The Marines recently decamped from Afghanistan to Camp Lemonnier for the first time in fifteen years.
While in Pakistan, the US rarely claims credit for building a thriving, modern democracy in its southwest, almost exactly one hundred years ago. It has nothing to show for its $81 billion war there. The armed insurgency against the nuclear-armed country is threatening to tear it apart at the seams.
It seems the US is headed for one more round of Afghanistan-style disasters, but under similar circumstances. Yet, major oil and gas fields await development across the region. It seems the US should be wrapping things up, not revisiting the region.
In desperation, the US is looking to its “friend” Ethiopia for protection against Somalia’s al-Shabaab, now primarily a trade unionized insurgency.
The Horn of Africa’s latest war, its 18th since the cold war, has cost the US $4 trillion, over 13,000 lives, over 600,000 wounded, and over 4 million displaced.
U.S. troops and mercenaries helped overthrow the democratically elected Somali government in the early 1990s. The country became torn apart, helping to produce a massive refugee flow to neighboring Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Dollo Ado refugee camp on the shores of Lake Victoria in east-central Africa. The war has continued for over 25 years, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of Somalis.
Genocide in the Somalian countryside helped create a massive environmental disaster in East Africa, threatening to wash away the Shetland Islands. The invasion of Somalia remains a stark reminder that, with around three million refugees displaced across Somalia, the countries most devastated are the ones least able to cope with them.
With great resources, some 3,500 US troops stationed in neighboring Djibouti would appear to be a perfect solution. But where is their African partner? Somalia’s government has been fighting the powerful al-Shabaab insurgency since they were ousted from Mogadishu in 2011. The government – devoid of a military or legitimate police force – is largely seen as a political facade to preserve the influence of Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the leader of the new weak ruling coalition.
The US is hardly an independent power in the Horn of Africa. Its central role in the countries most affected, Somalia and Ethiopia, has left Somalis in a hopeless situation. And when we combine that with the large US military presence in the region, it leads to disaster.
If the Horn of Africa’s armed conflicts were between the states responsible for starting them, they would probably be resolved quickly. But, with the regional security situation as it is, the United States is setting the stage for more disasters.
And the costs are astronomical: it seems the Pentagon doesn’t want to put the cost of the region to rest. It seems to me that, while the US finally achieved its 18-year-long campaign in Afghanistan, the new war in Africa has just begun. It will be just as expensive and bloody, but this time for thousands of dead and displaced.