Special Operations: The War Of The Watchers


December 17, 2011: France and the United States have special operations forces (commandos and special aircraft) stationed in Djibouti, which is next to northern Somalia. France has had commandos there for over a decade and the U.S. moved in after September 11, 2001. But you don't hear much about this corner of the War on Terror, despite the numerous terror groups in the region (especially Yemen and Somalia). Why is that? Well, it's complicated.

France has been building up their special operations capability in Djibouti during the last five years in anticipation of problems in Eritrea and Somalia, both of which are involved in disputes with Ethiopia. The Addis Ababa (Ethiopia)-Djibouti railroad is pretty lucrative for Djibouti and France (because it is Ethiopia's main outlet to the sea) and fighting between Ethiopia and either of its neighbors could create problems there. American Special Forces in Djibouti have a base near the main French one. It's pretty easy to spot on Google Earth.

U.S. forces were increased after resistance collapsed in Iraq three years ago. Now there is even a small CIA base in Mogadishu, the traditional capital of Somalia. The CIA, and similar outfits from other nations, also work from Djibouti. But most of the effort is directed at monitoring what is going on in the region (mainly Somalia and Yemen but also Eritrea, Kenya, and Ethiopia), not at interfering with the local terrorists. Not much anyway.

Despite the presence, for most of the past decade, of thousands of American and French commandos next door to Somalia there have been very few American (or French) commando operations in Somalia. The main reason for this lack of action was American diplomats who made a convincing argument that making a major military effort in Somalia would not accomplish much. The Somalis will keep on fighting, either with each other or with anyone who comes onto their turf. Somalia has long been a mess on all levels, with little infrastructure to make it useful as a terrorist base. The American diplomats argued that Somalia was more of a black hole that al Qaeda members would simply disappear into. This was particularly true because al Qaeda was mainly Arab and Arabs were very contemptuous of black Africans. There was indeed friction between Arabs and Somalis (who are black Africans who consider themselves Arabs) when al Qaeda men fled from Iraq after Islamic radical forces there collapsed in 2008. The friction continues and occasionally turns into violence with terrorists killing each other.

In the last year more UAVs have been moved into Djibouti, plus small detachments in Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. Some of these UAVs have been armed and there have been some more missile attacks, primarily in Somalia against known Islamic terrorist leaders. But that's as far as it goes.

American diplomats have succeeded in getting more African countries to provide peacekeepers for Somalia, partly with the promise of special operations support from commandos and intelligence forces in Djibouti. American Special Forces are expert in this kind of intelligence gathering and in this case it has kept them out of a nasty war in Somalia.


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