Advising Somalia: U.S. deployment of a military force is a mistake

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The Pentagon acknowledged Friday that the United States sent a team of military advisers to war-torn Somalia last month to help Somali and other African forces fight the al-Shabab opposition group. This is very risky business.

The team, which the Pentagon characterized as “small,” is to provide communications, logistics and planning assistance. Its installation in Mogadishu, where a climate of car and suicide bombs, widespread fighting and very tenuous government authority has prevailed since 1991, represents the first U.S. boots on the ground since the October 1993 “Black Hawk Down” killing of American servicemen. That incident led to the withdrawal of U.S. troops who had been in Somalia since late 1992.

Why is President Barack Obama changing policy on this Northeast African street without joy by again stationing U.S. forces there? His action is consistent with continuing American involvement in Somalia through a CIA presence, raids by Special Operations forces, fighter-bomber strikes, drone attacks and training and financing provided to Somali, Kenyan and other African fighters who have sought unsuccessfully to impose order there.

This is also another chapter in the quest for relevance pursued by the U.S. Africa Command, created during the Bush administration in 2008. By showing that it is needed, it can better protect itself from cuts in the Pentagon budget.

Unfortunately, there is no valid argument for deploying American troops in Somalia again. If Kenya and the other East Africans want to counter al-Shabab, they should put in sufficient forces of their own.

The fate of the Somali factions that desire to rule the country in place of al-Shabab has no relevance for the United States. There is nothing here worth risking American lives or money.

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