June 18, 2007


The Americans Have Landed: A few years ago, with little fanfare, the United States opened a base in the horn of Africa to kill or capture Al Qaeda fighters. By 2012, the Pentagon will have two dozen such forts. The story of Africa Command, the American military's new frontier outpost. (Thomas P.M. Barnett, July 2007, Esquire)

Ethiopia's Meles regime, which American Central Command officers describe as "xenophobic to the core," was going into Somalia last December whether the Americans approved or not. The recently installed Somali Council of Islamic Courts, with its loose talk of getting back another star point in its flag (otherwise known as Ethiopia's Ogaden region), simply had to go. As it happened, the Americans, who had been quietly training the Ethiopian troops for years, did approve.

In fact, Centcom was very eager for the operation. Most press leaks made it sound like our main targets were a trio of Al Qaeda senior operatives responsible for bombing American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania a decade ago. But the real story is one of pure opportunism, according to a knowledgeable source within the headquarters: "There were three thousand foreign fighters in there. Honestly, nobody had any idea just how many there really were. But we wanted to get them all."

When the invading Ethiopians quickly enjoyed unexpected success, Centcom's plan became elegantly simple: Let the blitzkrieging Ethiopian army drive the CIC, along with its foreign fighters and Al Qaeda operatives, south out of Mogadishu and toward the Kenyan border, where Kenyan troops would help trap them on the coast. "We begged the Kenyans to get to the border as fast as possible," the Centcom source says, "because the targets were so confused, they were running around like chickens with their heads cut off."

Once boxed in by the sea and the Kenyans, the killing zone was set and America's first AC-130 gunship went wheels-up on January 7 from that secret Ethiopian airstrip. After each strike, anybody left alive was to be wiped out by successive waves of Ethiopian commandos and Task Force 88, operating out of Manda Bay. The plan was to rinse and repeat "until no more bad guys," as one officer put it.

"We could have solved all of East Africa in less than eight weeks," says the Centcom source, who was involved in the planning. Central Command was extremely wary of being portrayed in the media as Ethiopia's puppet master. In fact, its senior leaders wanted to keep America's participation entirely secret. The goal was for Ethiopia to get all the credit, further bolstering America's controversial but burgeoning military ties with Meles Zenawi's increasingly authoritarian regime. Proud Kenya, still visibly nervous from the 1998 embassy bombing, would have been happy with a very quiet thank-you.

It was a good plan. And it was leaked to the press almost as soon as it started.

Those involved in the Central Command operation suspected two sources: 1) somebody in the Office of the Secretary of Defense who couldn't wait to trumpet their success to bitter personal rivals in the State Department, or 2) a dime dropper from our embassy in Kenya who simply couldn't stand the notion that the Pentagon had once again suckered State into a secret war.

The first New York Times piece in early January broke the story of the initial AC-130 bombardment, incorrectly identifying a U.S. military base in Djibouti as the launching point. That leak just let the cat out of the bag, tipping off the main target, a senior CIC leader named Aden Hashi Ayro, who, according to Centcom intelligence, had been completely fooled up to that point, thinking the Ethiopians had somehow gotten the jump on him. Ayro survived his injuries, and he's now back in action in Mogadishu and, by all accounts, mad as hell at both the Ethiopians and the Americans.

...doesn't make the military any less a government bureaucracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 18, 2007 7:21 PM

So does this mean from now on, there simply won't be any "secret" plans, due to these boneheads rushing to the papers with them?

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda manages to get its propaganda across clear as day, and its attacks never make the paper until blood is spilled, and sometimes not even then.

Posted by: Just John at June 19, 2007 12:47 AM

The account of the employment of the AC-130 provides nice illustration of how air power works. The ground support air systems, including the various helicopter gunships, depend on fixed-wing fighter cover. Electronic warfare issues count for a lot also

This is not too relevant against the Fuzzy-wuzzies, but would become so against any serious competitor. Keep those F/A-22's and 35's coming.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 19, 2007 5:07 AM

Seeing what Russians, their Cuban proxies,Somali and other Salafi jihadists have wrought; why shouldn't they be a little 'zenophobic'. The
irony that Ethiopia was the 80s version of Sudan; which of course, "We Are The World" solved; right.

Posted by: narciso at June 19, 2007 8:10 AM