How a Law in the United States Allows for Continued Commitments to Somalia

No more 'forever wars'!

President Joe Biden recently announced that he would send U.S. troops to “train and assist” Somali forces, which should reignite the debate over continued U.S. involvement in the “Global War on Terror.” Strictly speaking, despite former President Donald Trump’s withdraw of American military forces from Somalia in 2020, Washington has created proxy military forces in the country using section 10 U.S.C. §127e – otherwise known as 127 Echo in U.S. Code 10 or simply 127e. The 127e budgetary authority allows the government to create proxy forces abroad in place of deploying U.S. military forces. Yet 127e’s terms undercut both Congressional and public oversight, allowing Washington to continue the War on Terror, but with less regard for human rights concerns and potential blowback.

Amongst other things, 127e allows the United States to train troops in other nations but fight in Somalia, which authorizes Washington to maintain ongoing operations while claiming to have removed U.S. troops. This has been done three times under the Biden Administration. In this case, 127e allows the U.S. to continue the War on Terror from afar.

127e programs do not vet its trainee forces for human rights violations. Other U.S. legislation that regulates foreign forces’ human rights records, such as the Leahy Laws, are not applicable to 127e programs. By not considering human rights in the oversight process, Washington creates problems it should want to avoid, including armed groups using American‐​made weapons to commit mass murder or kill U.S. soldiers, whether intentionally or not.

For example, U.S. weapons – provided despite preventative 2016 UN sanctions — killed at least 22 civilians in Somalia in a 2021 incident. While it is unclear if these weapons were provided under 127e authority, the group committing the crime – Puntland Security Force – has received U.S. training and weapons from Navy Seals and the CIA since the early 2000s. Similar incidents involving 127e trained forces have soured Somali public opinion on Washington for discounting civilian casualties, with some reports suggesting that the government likely knew and failed to report these casualties.

Somalia is not the only country to host 127e programs with drastic costs.

In Cameroon, Washington used this program to employ a military unit known for committing extrajudicial killings – the Rapid Intervention Battalion – without restraint. This group then murdered and tortured women and children at a base frequented by U.S. military personnel. Moreover, 127e provided funding for the group despite withheld planned security assistance.

Beyond that, because the quality of troops being trained is not subject to oversight by Congress and the American public, 127e programs create lackluster partners. This has led to the deaths of U.S. soldiers. On October 4, 2017, for example, ISIS‐​affiliated militants murdered four American and four Nigerien soldiers in Tongo Tongo, Niger. The American soldiers were left vulnerable in the village attempting to support a U.S. team of 127e trainers.

Previous Congressional attempts to reform the 127e authority have all failed. In the House’s version of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Representative Sara Jacobs (D‑CA) sponsored an amendment, later repealed by the Senate, the bill would have required 127e to do human rights vetting prior to giving assistance and to conduct regular inspections throughout the operation. This would not put an end to the program, but it would mitigate its negative impacts by lowering the risk of human rights violations linked to 127e money. Unsavory organizations would receive less aid, and the United States' engagement in the African theater of the War on Terror may gradually fade away.

127e is the result of Washington's refusal to leave the region, and it has the potential to keep the United States committed indefinitely. The longer you stay, the more security threats you'll encounter, allowing malware like 127e to function unchecked. The 127e budget power permits Washington to keep its "War on Terror" on a shoestring budget. 127e allows counterterrorism activities to be escalated in Somalia, other parts of Africa, and elsewhere. Unchecked funding for special counterterrorism operations leads to human rights violations, the deaths of American soldiers, and the US military's inexorable self-entanglement in unnecessary wars, much like the Greek fable of Sisyphus being cursed to roll a boulder up a hill for forever. Washington will perpetuate the "eternal wars" until the fiscal authority changes.

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