Two items of news from Somalia — the Trump administration’s lowering the level of accountability for U.S. bomb and drone attacks, and the onset of famine — are not unrelated.
The country has been the site of civil war, enhanced by intense international involvement, since 1991, when the late dictator, Mohammed Siad Barre, fled Mogadishu and went into exile.
The virtually uninterrupted warfare that has occurred there since, for 26 years, has had predictable results, including the internal displacement of people, flight from the country, destruction or nonmaintenance of infrastructure, and the naturally resulting famine and collapse of health care and education.
The U.S. has been militarily involved in Somalia since late 1992, carrying out various self-assigned missions. The first was to prevent Somali warlords and gangs from preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to suffering Somalis. Then it became pressure on Somali leaders to constitute a government to restore more systematic rule to the country.
Then it became, as America’s own goals shifted, a struggle against the predominance of Islamic organizations’ rule in Somalia. Now it has become a war of the U.S., the forces of an unelected Somali government, and mercenary forces of a variety of African countries under the aegis of the African Union, to defeat Al-Shabab, the Somali Islamist-oriented force seeking power there.
The U.S., until March 29, had attacked targets in Somalia with bombs and drones according to certain rules, which included avoidance of civilian targets and casualties. Last week, President Trump scrapped these guidelines and, in effect, declared Somalia a free-fire war zone. This new military approach was not accompanied by an announcement of any increased U.S. aid to help address the famine now occurring there, nor the cholera epidemic also underway in the tormented country.
Nor is it likely that the government will change its policy toward Somalia in the foreseeable future. The Trump administration is asking for an increase in the military budget and a cut in foreign aid.
So it is likely that the U.S. will continue or increase bomb and drone attacks in Somalia and not provide increased funding to help it address the needs created by the resulting famine and cholera wave. America has come a long way in Somalia from where it started under President George H.W. Bush in 1992, when it tried to facilitate the delivery of help and encourage the restoration of effective government.