Somalia: White House 'steamrollered' into intervention

THE BUSH administration exaggerated the magnitude of the problems in Somalia as it scrambled under pressure from the press and television images to throw together an intervention plan, according to relief experts and analysts consulted by Washington.

Even US officials in Africa, including the US ambassador to Kenya, expressed alarm at the haste to send 28,000 US troops to the Horn of Africa to stop armed gunmen from 'sabotaging' international relief agencies' efforts to feed starving Somalis.

According to one well-placed British relief official in Washington during the decision-making, the White House was 'steamrollered' into putting together a US intervention force following press leaks from an administration meeting in late November where the idea was first mooted. 'Once the leaks started the administration felt it had to live up to the expectations and could not roll back,' the official said.

Television images of starving Somali children led to growing public concern over the situation in Somalia and had an impact on the White House as well. One Pentagon offical was quoted as saying that President George Bush felt he had to do something and 'would not leave office with 50,000 people starving that he could have saved'.

Plans were then put together at high speed by the Pentagon. 'They were put together with very little knowledge and with very little analysis of what the local impact would be,' the official said.

Soon after Lawrence Eagleburger, the Secretary of State, was referring to the situation in Somalia as 'a tragedy of massive proportions' where armed bandits and random violence were 'sabotaging' efforts to feed starving people. The State Department said 80 per cent of all relief aid sent to the country was being 'extorted' by 'armed thugs'.

However, according to relief officials and Africa analysts, this is a huge oversimplification of what was happening in Somalia. Geoff Loane, the co-ordinator of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is the largest distributor of relief food in Somalia, says a maximum of 20 to 30 per cent of relief has been lost to looting. Justin Forsythe of Oxfam said: 'Certainly some has been looted but some has gotten through. I don't know where the 80 per cent figure came from.'

One official from Save the Children Fund said: 'To only be losing a fifth of your aid in a country where the central interest is food - and you are losing that food in the direction of the market - you are doing pretty good.'

According to Rakiya Omaar, who was dismissed from the human rights group Africa Watch for opposing the intervention, and Alex De Waal, who resigned afterwards, the pictures of the starving children that helped trigger the intervention were 'disaster pornography'. 'The reality of famine is both more complex and much less extreme than is ever conveyed in a picture story,' they wrote in a joint article. 'The truth is that, even in the areas of the country stricken by famine, outright starvation is the exception.'

At a meeting last week with Baroness Chalker, the Minister for Overseas Development, relief officals said they favoured military intervention to help get aid to starving Somalis but only as long as it was accompanied by longer- term efforts for reconciliation and reconstruction and as long it was 'positive' for Somalis.

Now that the marines have landed some officials said they were more sceptical. 'Certainly the behaviour of the marines who were shown on television standing over unarmed Somalis was not a good start,' said one relief official who asked not to be identified.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Android App Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises in the...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum