The increasing activity of US military and intelligence officers in Somalia – and the need in general to justify the extension of the “war on terror” – led Washington to announce on March 18 that it had found incontrovertible evidence linking al-Qaeda to Islamic activists in Somalia. Pentagon officials told reporters that American soldiers searching a cave in the Afghan mountains found a satellite-positioning device that had belonged to a US commando killed in Somalia in 1993. The Pentagon claimed that this discovery established beyond doubt the existence of such a link.
But the “smoking gun” has proven a damp squib, forcing embarrassed officials to retract their claims. The Pentagon has good reason to be embarrassed: this attempt to disinform comes only a month after the revelation that it had set up a covert unit to wage an information-war that could include feeding false information to foreign media. This time, however, the false material was also fed to the US media, and misled the American people.
Pentagon officials announced the “new evidence” only two days after the discovery of the global positioning system (GPS) device in a cave in east Afghanistan, abandoned there by al-Qaeda fighters. General John Rosa of the US Air Force, a Pentagon spokesman, announced the discovery to reporters at a briefing on March 20. He said: “We’ve said all along that we suspected al-Qaeda of being a worldwide network…this piece we currently think originated from Somalia will obviously tie – could obviously tie – al-Qaeda to Somalia.”
The defence officials’ confidence rested simply on the fact that the device had the name “G. Gordon” inscribed on it. They said that the inscription showed that the GPS must have been issued at some time to Master Sergeant Gary I. Gordon, one of the 18 US marines killed in October 1993 during an attempt to abduct Muhammad Farah Aideed (a Somali warlord) in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. The inscription by itself was too flimsy for the conclusion that the device had belonged to the dead marine and must somehow have travelled 2,700 miles from Mogadishu to northeastern Afghanistan. It did not take long for Peter Brumbaugh, a reporter for the Army Times newspaper, to take the model and serial number from the device and check them against records held by Garmin International, its manufacturer.
Brumbaugh’s efforts soon showed that the device could not have been issued before 1997, four years after the marines died in Mogadishu, and that in fact it had been sold to the army base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on December 21, 1998. His research also led him to a soldier nicknamed G. Gordon because he looked like G. Gordon Liddy, the Watergate burglar. This soldier, who had taken part in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, told him that the recovered device was in fact his.
The Pentagon was forced to retract its announcement only hours after making it. But it was in no mood to apologise or promise not to resort to such tactics in the future, as the terse statement it issued on the same day (March 20) showed. “Subsequent research regarding the origin of this particular GPS unit now indicates that the unit belonged to a US pilot who recently served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom,” the statement said. “The service member transferred possession of his GPS unit to another US pilot before leaving Afghanistan. This second pilot lost possession of the GPS unit in a firefight during Operation Anaconda.”
Interestingly, on the very day the GPS device was ‘discovered’, General Tommy Franks, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, was closing a visit to the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Franks, who visited Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea and Yemen, ended his journey at Djibouti, where there is a French military base and German forces have been deployed to back up the planned ‘war against terrorism’ in the region. Franks said that he visited these countries to exchange intelligence information on terrorism and to discuss plans to train their security forces to fight it. And although he confirmed that Washington had ample information to show the existence of terrorist organisations in Somalia, he stopped short of saying that it was the second country on the war list.
A large number of American officers and diplomats have already carried out exhaustive consultations and collected information during a series of visits to different districts and to Mogadishu itself, where the UN-backed transitional government of President Abdul Qassim Salat Hassan is based. The Americans and their European allies back the warlords and other Somali groups opposed to the transitional government, saying that it is allied to the al-Ittihad, which president George W. Bush declared a “terrorist organisation” last September. President Hassan denies that he has any links with al-Ittihad and that there are any terrorists or al-Qaeda fighters in Somalia. He has invited the Americans to visit Somalia and see for themselves, but they have refused. Any open and honest search would lead to the conclusion that there are no ‘Islamic terrorists’ or al-Qaeda fighters in Somalia, and that al-Ittihad is not a terrorist organisation.
Al-Ittihad’s activities were severely affected by a strong attack in 1997 by invading Ethiopian forces, and by US-assisted raids by Somali warlords and their Ethiopian allies since September 11 last year. Its activities are now primarily charitable and educational in nature, but it still suffers from efforts by the US and its allies to brand it a terrorist organisation. The success of these efforts will provide sufficient justification, in the eyes of western voters, for the costly and prolonged ‘war on terrorism’, and for its extension to the Middle East and the Horn.
The visit of General Tommy Franks to the region has convinced many of its inhabitants that the war is about to be extended to Somalia and Yemen. General Franks did not, after all, need to leave Afghanistan merely to compare notes with local and foreign forces on terrorism. This conviction has been reinforced by the arrival in neighbouring Kenya of additional British aircraft and servicemen in Somalia. On March 22 two RAF Canberra reconnaissance aircraft with sophisticated photographic equipment arrived at the airport of Mombasa (capital of Kenya). On the same day a Russian transport aircraft hired by the RAF carried military equipment and 140 personnel to Moi international airport (also in Mombasa). The additional forces are certainly not needed for surveillance; there are enough British, US, German and French aircraft and ships scanning Somali territories and coasts for that.
British officials said on March 22 that the additional forces were not sent because of the discovery of new evidence, and called on the Americans to be ‘more cooperative’ and come and look themselves. But the American officials evidently thought so little of this suggestion that they did not even grace it with a reply. Who, after all, are the British to advise the great and mighty Americans, if they see fit to destroy the Islamic roots of a country in order to secure their own interests (which are by definition those of ‘civilisation’) and make it safe for ‘Christian’ Ethiopia and Israel, its ally?