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Terrorism in Kenya has roots in U.S. meddling in Somalia

Mark FancherBy Mark P. Fancher
Special to the Michigan Citizen

In the wake of the recent Kenyan shopping mall massacre, a U.S. Navy SEAL team attempted an early morning raid on a compound occupied by al-Shabab, the group claiming responsibility for the killings. The mission was frustrated by unanticipated armed resistance that caused the SEAL team to retreat in haste.

The failed raid occurred in Somalia. It triggers memories of another failed U.S. military operation in 1993 that became the subject of a Hollywood-produced propaganda film titled “Black Hawk Down.” The film portrays U.S. soldiers engaged in what was presented as a humanitarian mission in a Somalia torn by inter-clan warfare. Some observers suspect the true motives were profit-driven given the extensive U.S. oil exploration efforts underway in Somalia at the time.

The recent Navy SEAL raid was a very small part of extensive U.S. military operations involving thousands of troops in Africa. These operations are justified as “anti-terrorism” or “humanitarian intervention,” but there is actually a military-industrial alliance that relies on the cynical use of soldiers to advance or protect western corporate interests. The consequences are bloody, catastrophic, and sometimes delayed until long after U.S. troops are no longer actively engaged. The killings in the Kenyan shopping mall are a case in point.

The mall massacre may appear to be an isolated act of terrorism, but the event has historical roots in a 1980s proxy war, in which the United States supplied arms to Somalia. The Soviet Union backed Ethiopia, Somalia’s foe. After Somalia’s then-president, was driven from power by Somali opposition groups, the many U.S. weapons in Somalia fell into the hands of so-called warlords who fought bitterly on behalf of their respective clans for territorial control. Some suspect this chaos was actually welcomed by foreign corporations because it facilitated the negotiation of favorable oil deals with the various clans that were pitted against each other.

By 2006, the Islamic Courts Union, a network of tribunals administering Islamic law, established a stable government in Somalia. Even though Congressional research shows the government was a reasonable, moderating influence in Somalia, the United States branded the Islamic Courts Union as “extremist” and “jihadist.” The Pentagon then collaborated with Ethiopia to drive out Somalia’s first stable government in years, creating a governmental vacuum that probably delighted western oil companies.

It was then al-Shabab, a youth organization, attempted to play a governing role in Somalia. It managed to secure and maintain control of parts of the country until an African Union coalition that included Kenyan and Ugandan troops moved them out of key areas of Somalia in 2011. The militants of al-Shabab began to threaten revenge against Kenya for its role in the operation. The Kenyan shopping mall massacre is the fulfillment of the group’s promise. It is also terrorism that may never have occurred if the United States had not, over time, played a considerable role in the destabilization of Somalia.

Mark P. Fancher is an attorney who writes frequently about the U.S. military presence in Africa. He can be contacted at


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