Efforts by C.I.A. Fail in Somalia, Officials Charge
By MARK MAZZETTI
Published: June 8, 2006
WASHINGTON, June 7 — A covert effort by the Central Intelligence Agency to
finance Somali warlords has drawn sharp criticism from American government
officials who say the campaign has thwarted counterterrorism efforts inside
Somalia and empowered the same Islamic groups it was intended to
The criticism was expressed privately by United States government officials
with direct knowledge of the debate. And the comments flared even before the
apparent victory this week by Islamist militias in the country dealt a sharp
setback to American policy in the region and broke the warlords' hold on the
The officials said the C.I.A. effort, run from the agency's station in
Nairobi, Kenya, had channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past
year to secular warlords inside Somalia with the aim, among other things, of
capturing or killing a handful of suspected members of Al Qaeda believed to
be hiding there.
Officials say the decision to use warlords as proxies was born in part from
fears of committing large numbers of American personnel to counterterrorism
efforts in Somalia, a country that the United States hastily left in 1994
after attempts to capture the warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid and his aides
ended in disaster and the death of 18 American troops.
The American effort of the last year has occasionally included trips to
Somalia by Nairobi-based C.I.A. case officers, who landed on
warlord-controlled airstrips in Mogadishu with large amounts of money for
distribution to Somali militias, according to American officials involved in
Africa policy making and to outside experts.
Among those who have criticized the C.I.A. operation as short-sighted have
been senior Foreign Service officers at the United States Embassy in
Nairobi. Earlier this year, Leslie Rowe, the embassy's second-ranking
official, signed off on a cable back to State Department headquarters that
detailed grave concerns throughout the region about American efforts in
Somalia, according to several people with knowledge of the report.
Around that time, the State Department's political officer for Somalia,
Michael Zorick, who had been based in Nairobi, was reassigned to Chad after
he sent a cable to Washington criticizing Washington's policy of paying
One American government official who traveled to Nairobi this year said
officials from various government agencies working in Somalia had expressed
concern that American activities in the country were not being carried out
in the context of a broader policy.
"They were fully aware that they were doing so without any strategic
framework," the official said. "And they realized that there might be
negative implications to what they are doing."
The details of the American effort in Somalia are classified, and American
officials from several different agencies agreed to discuss them only after
being assured of anonymity. The officials included supporters of the C.I.A.-led
effort as well as critics. A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment, as did a
spokesman for the American Embassy in Kenya.
Asked about the complaints made by embassy officials in Kenya, Thomas Casey,
a State Department spokesman, said: "We're not going to discuss any internal
policy discussions. The secretary certainly encourages individuals in the
policy making process to express their views and opinions."
Several news organizations have reported on the American payments to the
Somali warlords. Reuters and Newsweek were the first to report about Mr.
Zorick's cable and reassignment to Chad. The extent and location of the
C.I.A.'s efforts, and the extent of the internal dissent about these
activities, have not been previously disclosed.
Some Africa experts contend that the United States has lost its focus on how
to deal with the larger threat of terrorism in East Africa by putting a
premium on its effort to capture or kill a small number of high-level
Indeed, some of the experts point to the American effort to finance the
warlords as one of the factors that led to the resurgence of Islamic
militias in the country. They argue that American support for secular
warlords, who joined together under the banner of the Alliance for the
Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism, may have helped to unnerve the
Islamic militias and prompted them to launch pre-emptive strikes. The
Islamic militias have been routing the warlords, and on Monday they claimed
to have taken control of most of the Somali capital.
"This has blown up in our face, frankly," said John Prendergast of the
International Crisis Group, a nonprofit research organization with extensive
field experience in Somalia.
"We've strengthened the hand of the people whose presence we were worried
most about," said Mr. Prendergast, who worked on Africa policy at the
National Security Council and State Department during the Clinton
The American activities in Somalia have been approved by top officials in
Washington and were reaffirmed during a National Security Council meeting
about Somalia in March, according to people familiar with the meeting.
During the March meeting, at a time of fierce fighting in and around
Mogadishu, a decision was made to make counterterrorism the top policy
priority for Somalia.
Porter J. Goss, who recently resigned as C.I.A. director, traveled to Kenya
this year and met with case officers in the Nairobi station, according to
one intelligence official. It is not clear whether the payments to Somali
warlords were discussed during Mr. Goss's trip.
The American ambassador in Kenya, William M. Bellamy, has disputed
assertions that Washington is to blame for the surge in violence in Somalia.
And some government officials this week defended the American
counterterrorism efforts in the country.
"You've got to find and nullify enemy leadership," one senior Bush
administration official said. "We are going to support any viable political
actor that we think will help us with counterterrorism."
In May, the United Nations Security Council issued a report detailing the
competing efforts of several nations, including Ethiopia and Eritrea, to
provide Somali militias and the transitional Somali government with money
and arms — activities the report said violated the international arms
embargo on Somalia.
"Arms, military matériel and financial support continue to flow like a river
to these various actors," the report said.
The United Nations report also cited what it called clandestine support for
a so-called antiterrorist coalition, in what appeared to be a reference to
the American policy. Somalia's interim president, Abdullahi Yusuf, first
criticized American support for Mogadishu's warlords in early May during a
trip to Sweden.
"We really oppose American aid that goes outside the government," he said,
arguing that the best way to hunt members of Al Qaeda in Somalia was to
strengthen the country's government.
Senior American officials indicated this week that the United States might
now be willing to hold discussions with the Islamic militias, known as the
Islamic Courts Union. President Bush said Tuesday that the first priority
for the United States was to keep Somalia from becoming a safe haven for
The American payments to the warlords have been intended at least in part to
help gain the capture of a number of suspected Qaeda operatives who are
believed responsible for a number of deadly attacks throughout East Africa.
Since the 1998 bombings of the United States Embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania, American officials have been tracking a Qaeda cell whose members
are believed to move freely between Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and parts of
the Middle East.
Shortly after an attack on a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, and the failed attempt
to shoot down a plane bound for Israel that took off from the Mombasa
airport, both in November 2002, the United States began informally reaching
out to the Somali clans in the hopes that local forces might provide
intelligence about suspected members of Al Qaeda in Somalia.
This approach has brought occasional successes. According to an
International Crisis Group report, militiamen loyal to warlord Mohammed
Deere, a powerful figure in Mogadishu, caught a suspected Qaeda operative,
Suleiman Abdalla Salim Hemed, in April 2003 and turned him over to American
According to Mr. Prendergast, who has met frequently with Somali clan
leaders, the C.I.A. over the past year has increased its payments to the
militias in the hopes of putting pressure on Al Qaeda.
The operation, while blessed by officials in Washington, did not seem to be
closely coordinated among various American national security agencies, he
"I've talked to people inside the Defense Department and State Department
who said that this was not a comprehensive policy," he said. "It was being
conducted in a vacuum, and they were largely shut out."
Marc Lacey contributed reporting from Nairobi for this article, and Helene
Cooper from Washington.