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CIA...s Covert Efforts Failing In Somalia, Officials Charge

By Mark Mazzetti


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 marginalize.

The criticism, expressed privately, flared even before the apparent victory this week by Islamist militias in the country dealt a sharp setback to American policy in the region, according to U.S. government officials with direct knowledge of the debate.

The officials said the CIA 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-Qaida believed to be hiding there.

Officials say the decision to use 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 CIA 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 policymaking and to outside experts.

Among those who have criticized the CIA operation as short-sighted have been senior foreign service officers at the U.S. 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 Somali warlords.

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 CIA-led effort as well as critics. A CIA 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 policymaking process to express their views and opinions.”