US accused Qatar of funding Somalia’s Al Shabab militia, Wikileaks reveals

The United States accused its close ally Qatar of funding the Al-Shabab militia in Somalia, newly released diplomatic cables reveal.

The extraordinary claim was made in a 26 October 2009 meeting between Ambassador Susan Rice, the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations and her Turkish counterpart Ambassador Ertugul Apakan. A US diplomatic cable of minutes of the meeting was leaked by Wikileaks on 24 August.

This accusation – if true – means that the United States and Qatar have been funding and arming opposing sides in Somalia’s bloody civil war, which has undoubtedly exacerbated the catastrophic famine that is gripping the country. Qatar, the cables show, strenuously denied the accusation.

The cables also shed more light on the extent to which the United States is involved in proxy wars in the Horn of Africa.

Qatar “funding insurgents”

According to the cable:

Apakan said that Turkey wanted to be helpful in Somalia and agreed with the U.S. approach of continuing broad-based support for the Transitional Federal Government. Ambassador Rice expressed concerns about Qatar’s role in funding insurgents through Eritrea who were operating in Somalia, and suggested that Turkey could be helpful by weighing in with Qatar.

The cable does not provide any more detail about why the Qataris might have been supporting Al Shabab, nor the nature of the American intelligence on which Rice was basing her statements.

American weapons fuel Somali war

Soon after it took office in 2009, the Obama administration began shipping weapons and ammunition to the US-backed “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) of Somalia, which it was often said controlled no more than a few blocks of the capital Mogadishu.

The Americans wanted to fight back the Islamist Al Shabab militia that had gained control of – and still controls large parts of Somalia.

This would mean that if true, Qatar, which hosts a massive US air force base, and the United States were directly or indirectly arming different sides in a bloody proxy war.

The United States also backed a 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia intended to support the TFG, which possibly explains the role of Ethiopia’s enemy Eritrea in supporting Al-Shabab.

TFG suspicions of Qatar role funding Al Shabab

A classified July 2009 US Embassy in Tripoli cable recording minutes of a meeting between US “Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and TFG President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad in Sirte, Libya states:

President Sharif, who was accompanied by SOMALIA Transitional Federal Government (TFG) Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Omaar and Chief of Staff and Senior Adviser Abdulkareem Jama, thanked the USG for its support. Reviewing his government’s efforts to repel al-Shabaab’s forces, Sharif said the TFG has implemented every mechanism to stabilize Mogadishu, but al-Shabaab’s support remains strong and has the backing of al-Qaida. Sharif blamed certain governments, including QATAR, of providing financial assistance to al-Shabaab, and he accused Eritrea of funneling these funds as well as weapons to al-Shabaab. Despite these challenges, the TFG intends to remain in SOMALIA to defend the country, the SOMALIA President said.”

These concerns were apparently more widespread than just the TFG and the Americans. A 20 August 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Cairo records that Arab Leagure Secretary General Amr Moussa had discussed the matter with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad:

Qatari denial

Qatar strongly denied the accusation of funding Al Shabab. A 20 August 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Cairo detailed a meeting between US officials and Zeid Al Sabban, an aide to Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa. The minutes indicate that Moussa had discussed the matter with the Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad:

Al Sabban said SYG Moussa discouraged QATARI EMIR Hamad from supporting Al Shibaab through Eritrea, a charge the EMIR emphatically denied (reftel B). The EMIR did admit to providing Eritrea with financial assistance and encouraging QATARi investment in the country. Al Sabban asked for an update on USG [US Government] discussions with the QATARI government on the topic of funding for Eritrea and Al Shibaab.

Turkey’s role

Earlier this month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the first visit to Mogadishu by any head of government in more than 20 years. Erdogan made a commitment to open a Turkish embassy in the war torn capital and pledged significant additional Turkish aid to the country particularly to combat the famine. Turkey is providing hundreds of millions of dollars in famine relief and long-term aid to Somalia.

Could this be part of Turkey making good on Ambassador Apakan’s promise to Rice that his country would be “helpful” in supporting the TFG? Erdogan’s high-profile visit can certainly be read as boosting international legitimacy for the embattled government.

Aside from any political or diplomatic aspect to the Turkish role, the least that can be said is that while the United States sent life-destroying weapons and ammunition to the country, Turkey is sending significant amounts of aid.