Photo by David Axe
Bad news in the five-year-old U.S. proxy war against al-Qaida–allied Somali insurgents. Half of the U.S.-supplied weaponry that enables cash-strapped Ugandan and Burundian troops to fight Somalia’s al-Shabab terror group is winding up in al-Shabab’s hands.
The kicker: It’s the cash-strapped Ugandans who are selling the weapons to the insurgents.
This revelation, buried in U.N. reports and highlighted by controversial war correspondent Robert Young Pelton at his new Somalia Report website, raises some unsettling questions about Washington’s plans to out-source more wars in the future.
Shabab is back in the headlines, for some downright evil actions during Somalia’s growing humanitarian crisis. The terror group is “blocking starving people from fleeing the country and setting up a cantonment camp where it is imprisoning displaced people who were trying to escape Shabab territory,” the New York Times reports.
The Pentagon has been striking at al-Shabab since at least early 2007, with special forces, armed drones and Tomahawk cruise missiles fired by Navy ships. But most of the fighting against the Islamic terror group, which has lured as many as 50 Somali-American kids to Mogadishu and even sent one on a suicide mission, is done by the roughly 9,000 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers belonging to the African Union’s peacekeeping force in Mogadishu, codenamed “AMISOM.”
In exchange, Washington pays the troops and sends them regular consignments of guns, rockets and ammo. Between 2007 and 2009, the bill for U.S. taxpayers came to around $200 million — and has probably doubled since then.
The problem is, the Ugandan army withholds most of the peacekeepers’ $550 monthly paychecks, keeping the money in bank accounts in Uganda accessible only by the troops’ families. Considering “limited shopping opportunities for embattled AMISOM troops, you would think that makes sense to keep their money at home,” Pelton wrote. “Except that the AMISOM payment debacle leaves thousands of troops surrounded by tons of weapons with no way to buy even ‘small small’ things like personal items, sweets or mobile phone recharges to call home.”
So the Ugandans sell their excess weaponry to intermediaries who then sell it on to al-Shabab. And to keep up their racket, the peacekeepers make sure to shoot at every opportunity, burning through “an extraordinary amount of ordnance” to justify continued arms shipments from Washington.
How bad is it? “In April of 2011 the U.N. determined that 90 percent of all 12.7 x 108 millimeter ammunition [in Mogadishu] was from an AMISOM stock created in 2010,” Pelton revealed. “An RPG captured from al-Shabab was analyzed and determined to have been delivered by DynCorp to the Ministry of Defense in Uganda. The contract was to supply weapons and ammunition to the Ugandan forces in Mogadishu.”
With the U.S. effectively arming both sides of the conflict, the Somalia fighting could go on … well, forever, absent major reform. This at a time when war-torn Somalia desperately needs some peace in order to cope with the worst drought in decades.
Weary from two long, costly Asian land wars, the Pentagon is mulling an “off-shore” strategy for future conflicts, where U.S. proxies “partners” do most of the hard fighting. Sure, the U.S. Army and Marines would help with training assistance, and the Navy and Air Force would provide high-tech support. But it would be foreign armies actually pulling the triggers.
But if, like the Ugandans, these armies end up arming their own opponents, how can we count on them to actually win their sub-contracted war?
This article was first published at WIRED.