The United States’ counterterrorism efforts in Somalia, which were ramped up after the emergence of the armed group al-Shabab in 2006, are worsening the East African country’s instability, according to a new analysis released Thursday as progressives in Congress voted for a withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the nation.
As the Costs of War project at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University said in the new report, the U.S. has spent at least $2.5 billion on counterterrorism operations in Somalia since 2007, including funding for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the Somali National Army. This figure does not include the undisclosed amount of money the government has poured into intelligence and military operations there.
U.S. spending in Somalia, ostensibly to eliminate al-Shabab and a new armed group that emerged in 2016, amounts to more than the country’s annual tax revenue, and according to the Costs of War report, has gone towards ineffective top-down conflict resolution tactics which only serve to perpetuate conflict.
As Oxford University lecturer Eniọlá Ànúolúwapọ́ Ṣóyẹmí explains:
The U.S. government’s top-down approach to counterterrorism has now come to be incorporated into the political motivations and objectives of high-level political operatives in Somalia, who have the greatest access both to the U.S.’ financial resources and to control of U.S.-trained forces. The U.S. military’s centralized approach reinforces the tendency among elites in the Somali federal government to, themselves, centralize power in opposition to more inclusive, bottom-up politics that aim genuinely to stabilize security in Somalia for the benefit of the wider population.
«Somali forces trained by the United States have been co-opted and misused by the Somali political elite for non-counterterrorism purposes like bodyguard duty, roadblock policing, or attacking political opponents,» Ṣóyẹmí added. «These forces are also exacerbating conflict, leading many to fear the outbreak of full civil war.»
The Pentagon recorded a 23% rise in violent activity involving al-Shabab between 2021 and 2022, and the group is «still on the rise,» the report says, despite more than a decade of counterterrorism efforts by the United States.
There are currently about 500 U.S. troops in Somalia conducting counterterrorism operations, and the U.S. has completed more than 275 air strikes and raids in the country in the past 16 years.
The Biden administration, like its predecessors, has claimed U.S. military involvement in Somalia is permitted under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, but members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) joined 100 other House members in supporting a War Powers Resolution put forward by on Thursday calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
«House progressives remain principled in their commitment to upholding the constitutional authority of Congress’s sole powers over war and peace, a check designed by the framers to limit needless conflicts led by the executive,» a representative for the CPC told The Intercept ahead of the vote.
In voting for the resolution, progressives sought to end U.S. policies which Ṣóyẹmí says are «ensuring that the conflict continues in perpetuity.»
«What the United States government is doing in Somalia is not peacekeeping, but warfighting,» said Ṣóyẹmí.
By Julia Conley