It is hard to believe anyone could be outraged by the U.S. government paying for contractors to train the African Union peacekeepers trying to keep Somalia from totally spinning out of control. Those armed forces are the only thing standing in the way of a complete takeover of the country by the Shabab, the Taliban-like militia which has close links to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. There is absolutely no appetite in Washington for sending any troops into Somalia, beyond perhaps an occasional Special Operations raid; everyone remembers all too vividly the Black Hawk Down disaster of 1993. So how do we stop the Shabab? The CIA has an active presence there. But that’s not enough. We also need to provide arms and training to African Union peacekeepers, and because we’re not willing to send even U.S. trainers, that job has been contracted out indirectly to a security company called Bancroft Global Development, based in Washington.
Bancroft’s role is the subject of a breathless, page one expose in the New York Times today. The article includes these passages about a roguish former French Army officer named Richard Rouget who works for Bancroft:
Some critics view the role played by Mr. Rouget and other contractors as a troubling trend: relying on private companies to fight the battles that nations have no stomach for. Some American congressional officials investigating the money being spent for operations in Somalia said that opaque arrangements like those for Bancroft — where money is passed through foreign governments — made it difficult to properly track how the funds were spent.
It also makes it harder for American officials to monitor who is being hired for the Somalia mission. In Bancroft’s case, some trainers are veterans of Africa’s bush wars who sometimes use aliases in the countries where they fought. Mr. Rouget, for example, used the name Colonel Sanders.
This is called creating a controversy where none exists–with reporters referring vaguely to “some critics” without quoting any by name. It leads to the suspicion the critics in question are those who produced this article.
Perhaps these nameless critics should be asked to come up with their own solution to the problem of the Shabab. How can we defeat these violent Islamist extremists without providing some on-the-ground training and support for the rag-tag Somali armed forces and their African allies? But that’s the beauty of the reporter’s role–or the congressional aide’s–you can criticize, but you don’t have to provide a useful alternative. Alas, officials in the executive branch don’t have that luxury; they actually have to do something, and to my mind, their employment of Bancroft is perfectly justified.