White House Keeps Close Eye on Somalia Conflict

The Bush administration is paying great attention to the situation in Somalia, particularly because of the role of Islamic forces in destabilizing the government. Noah Adams talks with Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung about U.S. policy in Africa.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

And to be sure, the Bush administration is watching the Somalia situation intently. Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post wrote a recent story under this headline: "U.S. Sees Growing Threats in Somalia."

Ms. DeYoung, how active a role do you think the U.S. has taken here? You wrote that the CIA had a secret plan that failed in Somalia.

Ms. KAREN DEYOUNG (Washington Post): Well, the United States had seen things going badly there last year and had developed a kind of secret CIA plan to fund various clan warlords there early in the year. The purpose was to keep the Islamic Courts from taking over. That purpose obviously failed, and in June the Islamic Courts did in fact take over. Then the United States decided it needed to have a different policy. And it has been trying diplomacy for the last six or seven months. But clearly that too has not succeeded.

ADAMS: Do you think the U.S. has had any military presence in all of this recently, the last few days?

Ms. DEYOUNG: They say not. You know, there is a fairly substantial U.S. military presence in Djibouti, also on the Horn of Africa. I believe that this project, what was happening in Somalia, was in fact largely left to the CIA. Certainly, there is a very small U.S. military presence in Ethiopia. And there have been U.S. military missions very close to the Somalia border in Kenya, where they've been doing humanitarian assistance for refugee camps on the border.

I don't believe that there has been any specific U.S. military involvement in Somalia. General Abizaid, the head of CENTCOM, visited President Meles in Addis Ababa a couple of weeks ago. He said this was a routine visit that while he urged restraint on the Ethiopians, he did not ask them to withdraw from Somalia.

ADAMS: Of course, the sort of historical shadow hanging over this regarding the military - in 1993, there was the attack in Mogadishu, the warlord attack on the U.S. Army Rangers, killing 18. The U.S. was there for humanitarian reasons. And a reluctance, I would assume, for many years to become really involved.

Ms. DEYOUNG: I think that that's true. You know, what caused these killings in 1993 is really the same thing that's going on now, where you have very powerful clans in Somalia vying for control there. In 1993, what had been a U.N.-led humanitarian mission turned into a sort of quasi-military mission by the United States troops that were there under U.N. authority. They went to get, you will remember, Mr. Adid, who was one of the clan leaders who they believed had been involved in taking shots at other U.N. forces there.

And as you pointed out, that plan was a spectacular failure and led to the withdrawal. I think the conclusion to draw through all of that is Somalia is a really, really dangerous place where it's very hard to figure out who's in charge of what, who's allied with whom.

ADAMS: And as to the stakes in Somalia, you write, a major war promoted and greeted approvingly by Osama bin Laden looms between Somalia and Ethiopia, a regional conflagration. What do you think about that sentence now?

Ms. DEYOUNG: Well, you know, Osama bin Laden has been trying for the past year or so to portray himself as a leader of a worldwide Islamic movement. And whenever there is trouble, whether it's in various places in the Middle East or in Africa, or even in Asia, he comes out in these audiotapes and kind of claims that this is part of his move to establish an Islamic caliphate across half of the world.

He came out in the summer and specifically made reference to Somalia, and said that all Islamic fighters should go to Somalia and help out. Now, I think that we don't really know whether he has any control or any particular influence over that situation. But it certainly won't make him unhappy that another violent trouble spot has broken out in the world.

ADAMS: Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post. Thank you.

Ms. DEYOUNG: Thank you, Noah.

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