Somalia expert Ken Menkhaus says he was surprised at the swiftness of the US military strikes on suspected al Qaida targets in Somalia. Menkhaus, of Davidson College in North Carolina, spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.
He says, “This has to be understood as an opportunistic air strike. This could not have been part of a broad plan between Ethiopia, the United States and the Kenyan military for that matter, as well. For the simple reason that no one expected the Union of Islamic Courts to flee Mogadishu and end up scattered in the remote part of southern Somalia near the Kenyan border. It just wasn’t in the cards. So, flushing out this small group of foreign al Qaida operatives that the United States is concerned about I think happened on the fly and they seized an opportunity.”
What do the air strikes say about US intelligence in the area? Menkhaus says, “That was the second thing that struck me is to claim to know where this small group…of foreign al Qaida operatives were in a remote part of southern Somalia came as a real surprise. I saw one news report this morning that suggested it was aerial tracking. I don’t know how that’s done. I think you can track vehicles, but tracking individuals at that point comes as a surprise to me.”
Commenting on whether informants on the ground could have tipped off the US military, Menkhaus asks, “How the informants would be able to contact the US military out in a remote part of Somalia like that remains a bit of a mystery…it remains to be seen if they actually hit the targets they hoped to hit or if they ended up hitting innocent bystanders in these towns.”
He says that there are political ramifications. “The political ramifications are arguably at least as important as taking out one of the foreign al Qaida suspects that were believed to be in safe haven in Somalia. What this is doing is it’s now tethering the United States ever more closely to the Ethiopian intervention. I think we can expect to see a negative, potentially fiercely negative, reaction in Somalia and in Somali inhabited parts of East Africa. This will not go down well in Somalia at all. And I think the key is the United States government has to make it clear that it was seizing an opportunity that came up very suddenly. That this was not part of a broader plan,” he says.
The United States could be perceived by some of collaborating with Ethiopia to “take down” a functioning government in Somalia, namely, the Union of Islamic Courts.