20 years ago saw the launch of a UN mission to Somalia which was to end with the corpses of US soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.
When the Somali dictator Siad Barre fell in the civil war in 1991, mass starvation loomed in the East African country. The UN Security Council unanimously agreed in 1992 on an international mission to improve the security situation in Somalia. The job of commanding the "United Task Force" was given to the Unietd States.
Rashid Abdi, a Somali expert, said the task force opened up humanitarian corridors for aid to Somalia and was initially welcome by the population. "People were able to get something to eat again," he said. But then the mission acquired a political and military dimension. "When the US soldiers were killed, the mission ended in disaster" he said.
In 1993, Somali militiamen shot down two Black Hawk helicopters and killed 18 US soldiers. Their corpses were dragged through the streets of the Somali capital Mogadishu and the United States was forced to pull its troops out of Somalia. This episode has gone down in history as "Black Hawk Down."
Profund impact on US foreign policy
"This experience of the US in Somalia during that period was very traumatic," said Thomas Cargill of the Chatham House think-tank in London. "It really reduced the appetite for any kind of foreign intervention of that kind for a number of years. It was an appetite that didn't return until after 9/11. Instead in Africa, there is a continuous focus on humanitarian engagement."
By 2007 the situation had changed. The US decided to set up an Africa Command, Africom, and based it in Stuttgart, Germany. From that location, it controls its military activities in Africa. They include, for example, the deployment of the U.S. military advisors who are assisting the Ugandan Army in the search of war crime suspect Joseph Kony in central Africa.
The US is now once active in Somalia . The US Army is supporting the current mission of African Union forces in Somalia, AMISOM. Donald Teitelbaum of the Department of African Affairs at the U.S. State Department said that the US provides advisors and technical assistance to the AU and its component missions in Somalia. But he insisted that "a lot of the specific shapes of that assistance would be defined by Somali communities themselves."
US supports AMISOM troops
For the first time in two decades civil war, Somalia now has a functioning central government. Sheikh Hassan Mohamoud was selected this fall as the new president. The US has a vested interest in the stabilization of Somalia so that the influence of the Islamist Al-Shabaab is contained.
AMISOM troops, with US support, have made great progress in the fight against the Islamists. "I think the Americans are very aware of the potential of their direct and very open military involvement in Somalia, which is being used by Al-Shabab to whip up anti-Americanism," said Rashid Abdi. "For those very reasons I think the Americans are very cautious about not becoming directly engaged themselves, supporting instead African countries that are more acceptable in Somalia."
As in Pakistan and Yemen, the United States has recently sent out unmanned drones on reconnaissance and combat missions against extremists in Somalia. Internationally, this was a highly controversial procedure and a sign that the Americans are engaging more strongly in military actions in Africa.