The progressively less fruitful U.S. involvement in Somalia, in East Africa, has continued in the past week. A visit by the U.S. military commander for Africa to Mogadishu was followed days later by an enormous truck bomb attack that killed more than 320 people, conveying a message to Somalis and Americans.
U.S. military involvement in Somalia started in late 1992, when President George H.W. Bush sent forces there to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian relief to Somalis suffering from hunger and disease. Their own government had collapsed in January 1991, and remains in a precarious, unelected state to this day. By 1992 Somali militias had turned the effort of the West and nongovernmental organizations to care for starving Somalis into a profitable shakedown racket.
U.S. forces were withdrawn by President Bill Clinton after the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” attack, which resulted in 19 dead American soldiers. The U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu was closed subsequently, when its situation came to be considered by Washington to be too dangerous for the U.S. diplomats there.
The United States was pulled back into Somalia when Islamic-oriented local organizations became what Washington considered to be too involved in governing parts of a fragmented Somalia. What was initially an intelligence operation grew rapidly into what is now a presence of 400 U.S. troops there and a full-fledged U.S. military base — with drones, fighter bombers and thousands of U.S. troops — in bordering Djibouti, the former French Somaliland.
It is the only U.S. base in Africa. Other African countries have declined to host one, considering the presence to be inconsistent with their sovereignty. Djibouti is poor, and its government considered to be corrupt. France and China have bases there, too.
The latest episode in the U.S.-Somalia chronicle is the visit to Mogadishu by senior U.S. Africom officers last week, followed days later by the bomb attack, unprecedented in its size even for Somalia, in a downtown area of Mogadishu, which injured at least 400 in addition to the more than 320 killed. The bomb exploded at a busy intersection outside of a popular hotel, though investigators believe the terrorists’ intended target was the nearby airport compound, which houses embassies and the African Union peacekeeping force. The president of Somalia blamed the attack on the militant group al-Shabab, which has not claimed responsibility.
It is likely that Somalia’s resurrection as a country, with a functioning government and sustainable security, depends, as it probably always has, on the Somalis working out their problems among themselves, without foreign military intervention. Now, in the wake of the linked Africom commanders’ visit and the stupendous bombing attack, should be a time for Washington to pull the cord again on U.S. involvement in that tragic country. We can go back when the Somalis sort themselves out. After 26 years of disorder and many, many deaths, they should be ready to.