Thursday, August 23, 2007

Millennial Challenges: Confronting terrorism in the Horn and Africa

Global Strategic Enterprises, Inc for Peace and Prosperity-,

Exclusive: Eritrea: The Horn of Africa’s Rogue Regime
J. Peter Pham

Author: J. Peter Pham, Ph.D.
Source: The Family Security Foundation, Inc.
Date: August 23, 2007

In yet another insightful article on the African country of Eritrea, FSM Contributing Editor J. Peter Pham provides details on how recent events are cause to worry that the Eritrean government’s policies – located in proximity to the turbulent Middle East – pose a possible terrorist threat.

Eritrea: The Horn of Africa’s Rogue Regime

By J. Peter Pham

Last week, exasperated with Eritrea’s continued violations of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and its increasing harassment of representatives at the American Embassy in Asmara, the United States ordered the closure within ninety days of the East African country’s consulate in Oakland, California.

At a State Department briefing last Friday, while insisting that the move was a carefully calibrated reciprocal action in response to Eritrea’s attempts to open U.S. diplomatic pouches – a hostile action forbidden by international law – and its refusal for the last two years to give visas to diplomatic personnel on temporary duty to relieve their colleagues, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazier acknowledged that the closure would also make it harder for the government of President Isaias Afewerki to collect its most important source of foreign exchange: the 2% income tax that it imposes on the Eritrean diaspora (one-fourth of the population lives abroad), including some 200,000 living in the United States:

I believe it will certainly impact their ability to collect money from the Eritrean community in the United States which…money is being used, as the UN monitoring report has indicated, to get weapons and to train fighters to go into Somalia.

(Amazingly, one of the reporters present at the encounter actually asked Dr. Frazier, “There are quite a few Eritreans living in Oakland. I mean, there is an inconvenience to these people…that [their taxes] can’t be collected there now.”

Given Eritrea’s record as discussed below, what is stupefying is not so much the temerity of the journalist’s question and the solipsistic mentality it revealed, but rather that residents of the United States are still being allowed to transfer money to the regime in Asmara, albeit with some additional exertion now required.)

Dr. Frazier also revealed that a dossier was being assembled with a view toward formally designating the country a “state sponsor of terrorism” subject to more serious sanctions:

We are certainly collecting that data and this human monitoring report will certainly be part of it. But…we have to do our independent verification…we do have intelligence that affirms what is in the monitoring report…Frankly, the information so far that we have collected is fairly convincing about their activities, in terms of state sponsor, in Eritrea and Somalia.

The shuttering of the consulate and the progress of the interagency evaluation of Eritrea’s links to terrorism come none too soon. From halcyon days of the 1990s when President Bill Clinton hailed the newly independent country as on of the successes of the much-hyped, but elusive “African Renaissance” and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived at Asmara International Airport to find the terminal draped with a gigantic banner proclaiming Yes, it takes a village, U.S. relations with the Eritrean People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRF) regime have cooled considerably as the latter turned increasingly despotic (Isaias received his political and military training in Maoist China at the height of the Cultural Revolution), fought a 1998-2000 war that claimed over 100,000 lives over a near-worthless strip of desert around the town of Badme (pre-war population, 1,500), and, worst of all, supported terrorism throughout the Horn of Africa.

I warned in a column published at the beginning of the year, while the Ethiopian intervention against Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union (ICU) radicals was still underway, that “while the Islamists have apparently abandoned concentrations in urban centers, they are not yet eliminated as a force” since “it is certainly conceivable that, having been beaten in conventional fighting but not quite destroyed, the Islamists and their foreign supporters could adopt the same non-conventional tactics that foreign Jihadis and Sunni Arab insurgents have used to great effect in Iraq.” Barely two months later, I concluded that the Somali Islamists were indeed “repeating almost step-by-step the tactical and strategic evolution of the Iraqi insurgency.” Last month, I reported:

Spearheading the insurgency is al-Shabaab (“the Youth”), an extremist group which I reported last year emerged within the ICU’s armed forces and is led by a kinsman and protégé of ICU council leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir ‘Aweys, Adan Hashi ‘Ayro, who trained in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda before returning to Somalia after 9/11.

Recent intelligence indicates that Shabaab efforts have been coordinated by Fazul Abdullah Muhammad, the reputed leader of al-Qaeda in East Africa who is on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” list with a $5 million bounty on his head for his role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. Fazul, who is said to have been the target of the guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee’s shelling of a stretch of the Somali coast [in June 2007], is reportedly working directly as intelligence chief for the Shabaab campaign.

And who is enabling the ICU/al-Shabaab radicals to carry out their murderous rampage? The June 27, 2007, report to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee by the Monitoring Group on Somalia which Dr. Frazier referred to in her briefing was, rather uncharacteristically for the international body, direct: “Huge quantities of arms have been provided to the Shabaab by and through Eritrea.” The report went on to state that:

The Monitoring Group has observed a clear pattern of involvement by the Government of Eritrea in arms embargo violations. The Monitoring Group also concludes that the Government of Eritrea has made deliberate attempts to hide its activities and mislead the international community about its involvement.

Giving the lie to denials by Eritrean officials, the U.N. monitors obtained a copy of the sales contract for a Russian-built Ilyushin-76 cargo plane used to transport arms and foreign fighters into Somalia to a front company for the EPLF regime, whose diplomats “based in a Gulf country” delivered the $200,000 down payment for the aircraft.

The Eritreans also apparently chartered a Boeing 707 which made at least thirteen trips from Asmara to Mogadishu between November 2006 and June 2007, delivering an unknown quantity of surface-to-air missiles, suicide belts, explosives with timers and detonators, and other armaments to the Islamists and other insurgents fighting the internationally-recognized, but weak “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) of Somalia and its Ethiopian allies.

The U.N. officials also assigned ultimate responsibility to Asmara for the March 23 downing of another IL-76, operated by Belarus, in which eleven passengers, all foreign nationals being evacuated from Mogadishu (which I previously reported): “The missile used to shoot down the plane was an SA-18 (MANPAD, Man Portable Air Defence System). The SA-18 was reported to be part of a consignment of six SA-18s that had been delivered by Eritrea to ICU/Shabab.”

While it was arming the fighters on the ground, Eritrea was also busy playing host to a number of Somali dissidents, including deposed TFG parliamentary speaker Shaykh Sharif Hasan Adan; former government minister Husayn Mohamed Farah, a.k.a., “Aydiid Jr.,” a renegade former U.S. Marine who is the son of the General Mohamed Farah Aydiid of Black Hawk Down infamy; Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad, the fugitive chairman of the ICU; and Shaykh Yusuf Mohamed Siyad, a.k.a. “Indha’Adde,” the defense chief during the ICU rule. Voice of America (VOA) correspondent Alisha Ryu has reported that Eritrean President Isaias convened a “unity meeting” in early June to form a coalition against the TFG and Ethiopia that would include not only the ICU and former members of the TFG, but also two Ethiopian rebel groups, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the ethnic-Somali Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

Other sources report that the ICU’s Shaykh Sharif will be the chairman of the yet-to-be-named front, while the ONLF’s leader, Mohamed Omar Osman, will be its military commander. (For more on the ONLF, see my column on “Additional Sparks Fly in the Horn of Africa.”)

Diplomatic, military, and intelligence officials confirm that, in addition to the four factions just mentioned, as part of his mad strategy of playing regional spoiler Eritrea’s Isaias supports nearly a dozen other armed groups, mostly ethnic-based, with the aim of destabilizing his neighbors. Those targeted at undermining the Ethiopian government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi included:

▪ The Afar National Democratic Front (ANDF), which in March abducted five British citizens traveling in the northern Afar region (the Britons were subsequently released);

▪ the Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF), an Amhara group which fought a pitched battle near Gondor with government forces after infiltrating from Sudan (23 rebels were killed, 18 were captured, and 112 surrendered voluntarily);

▪ the Gambella People’s Liberation Force (GPLF), an group representing the Anuak minority of Ethiopia and Sudan that has been accused of attacking that has in the past attacked government and economic development workers as well as the occasional U.N. vehicle (to be fair, the lowland Anuak have admittedly been long marginalized by the highland Amhara and Tigrayan rulers of Ethiopia);

▪ the Southern Ethiopia Peoples’ Front for Justice and Equality (SEFJE), which joined with the Tigray People’s Democratic Front (below) to launch a March attack against the Ethiopian Army’s 31st Division at Adi Geshu in the Karsa Humera district of western Tigray;

▪ and the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), which claims to have killed 127 government soldiers in a May battle in the Tigrayan heartland in northwestern Ethiopia (a video clip, purportedly of the fight, was even posted on YouTube).

The Asmara regime has also trained two of the rebel groups fighting the Sudanese government and its janjaweed irregulars in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), providing them with facilities in Asmara, the coastal city of Massawa, and near the Eritrean-Ethiopian border at Hikuta. Eritrea also aided Rashidiya Arab and Beja rebels of the Eastern Front in Sudan before the insurgents made their peace with the Khartoum government earlier this year and joined it in a power-sharing agreement in July.

Because of the close diplomatic and economic links between Ethiopia and Djibouti, the latter’s primary outlet to the sea, Eritrea has also given support to a splinter faction of Djibouti’s Front pour la Restauration de l’Unité et la Democratie (FRUD), an ethnic Afar group which rejects the larger movement’s accord with the ethnic Somali-led government in the tiny republic which also plays host to America’s Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).

And when he is not stirring up trouble abroad, Isaias Afewerki has a lot to do at home maintaining his ironclad grip on his own people. According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2007 country report, Eritrea is “not free,” scoring an abysmal 7 on political freedom and 6 on civil liberties (the scale is 1 to 7, with 1 corresponding to the highest and 7 the lowest level of freedom) – neighboring Ethiopia, for all its problems is at least “partly free” and scoring 5 on both indices. Arbitrary detentions, torture, and political arrests are common.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are severely restricted and some categories of civil society organizations, like international human rights groups, are prohibited altogether; the last three international development NGOs were expelled in 2006, a year after the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was kicked out.

Eritrea also enjoys the dubious distinction of being one of only eight nations singled out for designation by the U.S. State Department as “countries of particular concern” with respect to international religious freedom (the others are Burma, the People’s Republic of China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan).

Since 2002, the EPRF regime has banned all religious denominations except for Islam, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of Eritrea. Members of other faiths are forbidden to worship in the country, even in private homes. However, being a “legal” denomination is no guarantee of religious liberty: in 2006, the regime deposed and arrested the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Abune Antonios, who had been critical of its interference in internal church matters.

Despite the denunciation of the ecclesiastical coup d’état by Coptic Pope Shenouda III, head of the mother church of Alexandria who had consecrated and installed Abune Antonios only three years ago, President Isaias used the feast of Pentecost this year to install on the patriarchal throne a more pliant prelate, Abune Dioskoros.

Much is often made of different priorities focused upon by Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon in the current war on terrorism, with the former characterized as more interested in cultivating political links and strengthening civil society voices and the latter as primarily concerned primarily with establishing security and helping allies.

Whatever the truth of that generalization, in the case of Eritrea, Washington policymakers can forge a common position based on aggressively opposing the rogue regime in Asmara which, for its own reasons, is fomenting a growing cycle of violence phenomenon that not only threatens the stability of its neighbors, but, because of its support of an al Qaeda-linked Islamist insurgency, risks opening a broad terrorist front across the entire Horn of Africa.

# # Contributing Editor J. Peter Pham, PhD., is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, and an academic fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He has written for a variety of publications, and has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies.
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Note -- The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views, and/or philosophy of The Family Security Foundation, Inc.

Other Articles by J. Peter Pham, Ph.D....
Eritrea: The Horn of Africa’s Rogue Regime J. Peter Pham
China’s Play for Somalia’s Oil J. Peter Pham, Ph.D
‘Total Force’ for AFRICOM J. Peter Pham
Mired in Mogadishu J. Peter Pham
The Indian Tiger’s African Safari J. Peter Pham
The Security Challenge of West Africa’s New Drug Depots
Cabinda: The ‘Forgotten Conflict’ America Can’t Afford to Ignore J. Peter Pham
Hu’s Selling Guns to Africa J. Peter Pham
“Beware of Al-Qaeda’s Franchise in Africa J. Peter Pham, Ph. D.

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