Saturday, August 13, 2011

the Somali mercenaries

A gun for hire through two decades of bloody African conflicts, former French army officer Richard Rouget is now the unlikely face of the American campaign against militants in Somalia.The 51-year-old commanded mercenaries during Ivory Coast's civil war in 2003, was convicted by a South African court for selling his military services and served a stint in the presidential guard of the Comoros Islands, the archipelago plagued by coup attempts. Now he works for Bancroft Global Development, an American private security company indirectedly backed by the US State Department, training African troops fighting al-Shabaab The advisers typically work from the front lines. Bancroft's Mogadishu team includes about 40 former South African, French and Scandinavian soldiers.
He seems to enjoy his work. "Give me some technicals" - a term for heavily armed pickup trucks — "and some savages and I'm happy," he joked.

The fight against al-Shabaab, a group US officials fear could carry out strikes against the West, has mostly been outsourced to African soldiers and private companies to avoid sending American troops back to a place that was a graveyard for US military missions in the past. "We do not want an American footprint or boot on the ground," said Johnnie Carson, the Obama administration's top State Department official for Africa.

In the past year, the US has quietly stepped up operations inside Somalia. The Central Intelligence Agency has trained Somali intelligence agents, helped build a large base at Mogadishu's airport - Somalis call it "The Pink House" for its reddish paint - and carried out joint interrogations of suspected terrorists. The Pentagon uses strikes by armed drone aircraft to kill al-Shabaab militants and recently approved £28 million in arms shipments.

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