U.S. Relies on Contractors in Conflict Somalia
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, MARK MAZZETTI and ERIC SCHMITT
A husky former French Army officer, Mr. Rouget, 51, commanded a group of foreign fighters during Ivory Coast’s civil war in 2003, was convicted by a South African court of selling his military services and did a stint in the presidential guard of the Comoros Islands, an archipelago plagued by political tumult and coup attempts.
Now Mr. Rouget works for Bancroft Global Development, an American private security company that the State Department has indirectly financed to train African troops who have fought a pitched urban battle in the ruins of this city against the Shabab, the Somali militant group allied with Al Qaeda.
The company plays a vital part in the conflict now raging inside
“We do not want an American footprint or boot on the ground,” said Johnnie Carson, the Obama administration’s top State Department official for
Still, over the past year, the
The Pentagon has turned to strikes by armed drone aircraft to kill Shabab militants and recently approved $45 million in arms shipments to African troops fighting in
But this is a piecemeal approach that many American officials believe will not be enough to suppress the Shabab over the long run. In interviews, more than a dozen current and former
“I think that neither the international community in general nor the U.S. government in particular really knows what to do with the failure of the political process in Somalia,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa program at the Atlantic Council, a Washington research institution.
For months, officials said, the State Department has been at odds with some military and intelligence officials about whether striking sites suspected of being militant camps in Somalia’s southern territories or carrying out American commando raids to kill militant leaders would significantly weaken the Shabab — or instead bolster its ranks by allowing the group to present itself as the underdog against a foreign power.
Lauren Ploch, an East Africa expert at the Congressional Research Service, said that the Obama administration was confronted with many of the same problems that had vexed its predecessors — “balancing the risks of an on-the-ground presence” against the risks of using “third parties” to carry out the American strategy in Somalia.
Teaching Fighting Skills
The Shabab has already shown its ability to strike beyond
Like other security companies in
In recent years, the company has expanded its mission in
The Bancroft camp operates as a spartan hotel for visiting aid workers, diplomats and journalists. But the company’s real income has come from the
Both American and United Nations officials said that Bancroft’s team in Mogadishu — a mixture of about 40 former South African, French and Scandinavian soldiers who call themselves “mentors” — has steadily improved the skills of the African troops and cut down on civilian casualties by persuading the troops to stop lobbing artillery shells into crowded parts of Mogadishu. One Western consultant who works with the African
The advisers typically work from the front lines — showing the troops how to build sniper pits or smash holes in walls to move between houses.
“Urban fighting is a war of attrition, you nibble, nibble, nibble,” said Mr. Rouget, the Bancroft contractor. Last year, he was wounded in
Still, he seems to thoroughly enjoy his work. “Give me some technicals” — a term for heavily armed pickup trucks — “and some savages and I’m happy,” he joked.
Some critics view the role played by Mr. Rouget and other contractors as a troubling trend: relying on private companies to fight the battles that nations have no stomach for. Some American Congressional officials investigating the money being spent for operations in
It also makes it harder for American officials to monitor who is being hired for the
He denies that he is a mercenary, and said that his conviction in a South African court was “political,” more a “regulatory infraction” than a crime. He added that the French government, which sent peacekeeping troops to
Mr. Stock, Bancroft’s president, also flatly rejects the idea that his employees are mercenaries, insisting that the trainers do not participate in direct combat with Shabab fighters and are supported by legitimate governments.
“Mercenary activity is antithetical to the fundamental purposes for which Bancroft exists,” he said, adding that the company “does not engage in covert, clandestine or otherwise secret activities.”
He did say, though, that there is only a small pool of people Bancroft can hire who have experience fighting in African wars.
In recent years, according to a United Nations report, many companies have waded into
The report provides new details about an operation by the South African firm Saracen International to train a 1,000-member antipiracy militia for the government of Puntland, a semiautonomous region in northern
Aid From the Pentagon
The Pentagon has recently told Congress that it plans to send nearly $45 million worth of military equipment to bolster the Ugandan and Burundian troops. The arms package includes transport trucks, body armor, night vision goggles and even four small drone aircraft that the African troops can use to spy on Shabab positions.
Unlike regular Somali government troops, the C.I.A.-trained Somali commandos are outfitted with new weapons and flak jackets, and are given sunglasses and ski masks to conceal their identities. They are part of the Somali National Security Agency — an intelligence organization financed largely by the C.I.A. — which answers to
One Somali official, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, said that the spy service was becoming a “government within a government.”
“No one, not even the president, knows what the N.S.A. is doing,” he said. “The Americans are creating a monster.”
The C.I.A. Plays a Role
The C.I.A. has also occasionally joined Somali operatives in interrogating prisoners, including Ahmed Abdullahi Hassan, a Kenyan arrested in
An American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of restrictions against discussing relationships with foreign intelligence services, said that agency officers had questioned Mr. Hassan in a Somali prison under strict interrogation rules.
“The host country must give credible assurances that suspects will be treated humanely,” the official said, and intelligence officials “must be convinced that the individual in custody has time-sensitive information about terrorist operations targeting
A C.I.A. spokeswoman said that the spy agency was not holding suspects in secret American prisons, as it did in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“The C.I.A. does not run prisons in
In a telephone interview, he played down any bureaucratic disagreements and rejected criticism that
And as for the rest of southern
“One step at a time, he said. “One step at a time.”
Mr. Stock, Bancroft’s president, said that bickering in
As he put it, “We’re the only game in town.”
Jeffrey Gettleman reported from Mogadishu, and Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt from
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs