On Monday, the U.S. pledged $5 million to assist Somalis battered by a severe drought that has, in the words of U.N. refugee agency chief Antonio Guterres, precipitated the "worst humanitarian disaster" in the world right now. But over the last couple weeks we've learned that the U.S. is increasingly getting involved in Somalia for another reason: counterterrorism.
In an article for The Nation yesterday, Jeremy Scahill reported that the CIA has set up two secret facilities in Mogadishu as part of America's fight against the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic militant group Al Shabab: a fortified compound near the capital's airport for training Somali intelligence agents in counterterrorism and a prison in the basement of Somalia's National Security Agency headquarters for detaining suspected Shabab members. Scahill, who spoke with Somali government and intelligence officials, Somali analysts and militia leaders, former prisoners, and a U.S. official, explains that while the Somalis technically run both sites, the CIA is pulling the strings behind the scenes and directly interrogating prisoners. A U.S. official later downplayed the CIA's presence in the country in an interview with CNN's Barbara Starr, explaining that the agency's operatives occasionally support the Somalis in interrogating terrorism suspects by "being present in the room or suggesting specific questions," and that the CIA also sends personnel and aircraft into Mogadishu to train Somali intelligence agents.