Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

US funding for Somali aid may go to terrorists

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As explained in a previous post, the drought that is currently besetting East Africa has become a full-scale humanitarian disaster in Somalia, mostly because of the rejection of foreign aid by Somali terrorist group Al-Shabab, who have rejected claims that there is a famine whilst waging a violent campaign against international aid organisations. AP has reported that, in order to combat the ongoing humanitarian crisis, the US will be loosening its counter-terrorism laws to allow bribes and other payments to Al-Shabab in return for US-funded aid organisations being permitted to operate in Somalia.

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration sought to assure aid groups Tuesday that they can deliver desperately needed food to famine-stricken parts of Somalia without fear of prosecution, even if some assistance is diverted to al-Qaida linked extremists blamed for helping deliver hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of starvation.

Administration officials said the U.S. has issued new guidelines on laws prohibiting material assistance to al-Shabab, which have been criticized by humanitarian organizations as a contributing factor the crisis. Charities must only pledge their best efforts to combat attempts by al-Shabab to hoard aid or collect taxes on supplies, they said.

... No U.S. law specifically prevents aid to southern and central Somalia, where the U.N. food agency says it cannot reach 2.2 million Somalis in areas under al-Shabab's control and fears that tens of thousands may have already perished. But bribes, tolls and other typical of costs of doing business in the largely lawless and chaotic country could have been punishable, even if extracted under coercion, after the State Department officially declared al-Shabab a terrorist organization in 2008.

It is a very sad state of affairs when the US Government is essentially compelled to funnel money into a terrorist group that has attempted several attacks on US soil while recruiting young Americans to fight against the US-backed African Union forces that are attempting to bring a modicum of stability to Somalia. Furthermore, it is not even certain that this tactic will provide a great deal of relief to the starving millions in southern Somalia.

In all likelihood, allowing bribes to be paid will not eliminate the threat that the ideologically-motivated Al-Shabab pose to aid workers - for instance, when a young man has abandoned an affluent home in America in order to fight in the Somali wasteland, it is unlikely that he will be swayed by a cash offering. Therefore, aid workers will still be reluctant to set foot in Al-Shabab territory. Also, there is little to prevent Al-Shabab from stealing any aid that is delivered to hungry Somalis.

For similar reasons, blogger Jonathon Narvey is very critical of the Western aid effort in Somalia. He argues that until the problem of Al-Shabab is resolved, any aid efforts will simply be wasted.

Somalis understand the true nature of this crisis. "Nature is always cruel but Al-Shabaab are the real killers," says one refugee.

If world leaders and humanitarian agencies really want to save Somalia, they need to put down the insurgency by Al-Shabaab that is preventing the distribution of aid -- and which helped break the country in the first place.

... Intervention would not be cheap or bloodless. It carries severe risks and costs at a time when the usual suspects for this type of intervention are broke and looking to avoid getting bogged down in more wars. But as in Afghanistan, not intervening may carry its own costs.

The crisis in Somalia is man-made. The solution can be as well.

That said, the onus may not necessarily fall upon the West to deal with the current crisis. As Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has observed, what is truly apparent in Somalia - a member of the Arab League - is the inaction from wealthy leaders of Arab countries.

Arab League representatives who held an emergency meeting in Cairo this week to discuss the financial crisis in the Palestinian Authority did not find time to deal with the plight of over !! [sic] million Somalis who are facing starvation due to the ravaging drought.

It is a stain on the forehead of all Arabs and Muslims that Americans and Europeans have moved faster to provide urgent aid to the famine-stricken population in Somalia, one of the 22 members of the Arab League... The US and the EU should tell the wealthy Arabs that there is no reason Westerners should be helping Arabs when their own Arab brothers are not doing anything.

... The Arab tyrants would rather use the billions of dollars they have stolen from their countries to entertain themselves and their families. They would rather use the money to deploy tanks and soldiers to kill peaceful demonstrators demanding reform and democracy. There is no doubt that the weekly or monthly expenses of a few Gulf princes and princesses in Paris, London and New York could alleviate the suffering of the hungry population of Somalia. But why should the royal families in the Gulf care about Somalia when Americans and Europeans are there to help?

The effort by countries such as the US and Australia to alleviate the Somali suffering is certainly not only commendable, but essential. That said, there are severe issues posed by the way in which aid organisations are being compelled to work with Al Shabab. A military intervention in Somalia would be difficult, but as the situation deteriorates and Somalia becomes an increasing threat to global security, someone will eventually have to step up to the plate. Hopefully, the other Middle Eastern powers will eventually show some leadership.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

If anyone is interested in donating to the East Africa aid relief, a good program is being undertaken by the American Jewish World Service.

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