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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Former Ethiopia ambassador urges caution

Former U.S. ambassador David Shinn warned against U.S. military action in Somalia in the wake of Sept. 11 in an Elliott School lecture Jan. 29.

Shinn addressed recent media speculation that Somalia is set to become the next American target in the war on terrorism to about 50 people, including students and former diplomats, in a full Stuart Hall conference room.

“After September 11, the media really focused on countries in Africa,” he said. “Somalia is being looked at very carefully now.”

Shinn, who served as ambassador to Ethiopia from 1996 to 1999, has also worked for the U.S. State Department in Somalia and other nations in the horn of Africa. He is a GW alumnus who currently serves as professor of an Elliott School of International Affairs course titled “Africa: Problems and Prospects.”

Detailing the regional conflicts affecting countries surrounding Somalia, he said the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania particularly fueled concerns about terrorist activity in east Africa. He was quick to point out that most of the conflicts are unrelated to Islamic extremism, although he said most countries in east Africa generally have large Muslim populations.

U.S. diplomatic relations with Sudan ended when the country sheltered Osama bin Laden in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum in 1992. Bin Laden was then sent to Afghanistan in 1994 by the Sudanese government at the request of the United States. Sudan continued to sponsor terrorist organizations in countries such as Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda.

Bin Laden claimed responsibility for a gunfight that killed 18 U.S. troops in Somalia in 1993, the Delta Force mission portrayed in the new Hollywood release Black Hawk Down. The incident hurt American relations in the region.

Shinn said future improvements in Sudan-U.S. relations depend on the country’s counter-terrorism efforts.

“I would not expect the next U.S. military action to take place in Sudan,” Shinn said. “Djibouti would be the perfect strategic place from which to base counter-terrorism efforts.”

Although Sudan was once the most threatening nation in the region, he warned that internal disputes in Somalia and Ethiopia now pose the biggest dangers.

“Ethiopia would like to use September 11 as an opportunity to get the U.S involved against Somalia,” he said.

The United States withdrew forces from Somalia following the ill-fated 1993 battle in Mogadishu.

“The United States washed their hands of Somalia,” Shinn said. There has been no other ground occupation by any nation in Somalia since then, leaving a failing government in place.

Shinn said activity by the chief Somali terrorist organization al-Itahad has diminished in recent years

“Somalia is no Afghanistan,” he said. “There is no central authority like the Taliban. There is only a transitional national government right now.”

Shinn praised the United States’ increased intelligence surveillance of the region, calling it necessary to prevent the potential spread of al Qaeda terrorists into eastern Africa after Sept. 11.

“The U.S. should continue working with Somalia’s neighbors to crack down on al-Itahad,” Shinn said. “But we should avoid military action in Somalia.”

Shinn urged the United States to turn to Europe for financial and military assistance.

“We may need to start building areas of regional authority, a federal system that will knit itself into a national system,” he said. “But the commitment and the resources do not exist right now.”

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