The cable dated August 26, 2009, and dispatched by US ambassador Michael Ranneberger says foreign fighters operating in Somalia include North Americans, Kenyans, Sudanese, Pakistanis, Yemenis and other unidentified nationalities and Arabs.
“Many of the foreign fighters currently operating in Somalia, particularly those who entered to fight the Ethiopians from 2006-2008, are ethnic Somalis, recruited from either neighbouring countries or diasporas overseas and motivated in the past by a sense of Somali nationalism, jihadist propaganda, and the presence of foreign troops in the country,” the cable says.
Mr Ranneberger added that others are North Americans, including at least 20 young men who were recruited from Minneapolis alone, and recruits from European countries with large Somali diasporas.
“Fighters have also come from within East Africa, most notably Kenya and Sudan. In addition, press reports and our conversations with Somali government officials note the presence of an unknown number of non-Somali fighters from South Asia and the Middle East, including Pakistanis, Yemenis, and other unidentified Arabs,” he adds.
The cable says some of these fighters may have chosen, or been directed to Somalia for training and to gain jihadist experiences because Somalia currently affords comparatively greater safety for camps and other sites than South Asia or Iraq.
“Neither we nor the Somali government knows exactly how many foreign fighters are in Somalia as reporting varies widely. Statements by Somali government officials mention several thousand foreigners, which we believe are exaggerations, or at best estimations based on fighter sightings and rumors,” he says.
The timing and motivation of foreign fighters arriving in Somalia appears tied to perceptions of internal Somali dynamics, he notes, adding that conversations with Somali political leaders highlight that some foreigners were already present during the Council of Islamic Courts period, and that the Ethiopian intervention in 2006 both prompted some foreigners to flee, and provided motivation for a new influx of foreign fighters, including ethnic Somalis determined to drive Ethiopia out.
“Al-Shabaab’s territorial gains in 2008, and the subsequent Ethiopian withdrawal from Somalia in January 2009, prompted additional foreign fighters to join what was seen as a successful struggle. Regardless of their initial motivations, these young recruits are subject to indoctrination and use by violent, often foreign extremists,” the cable adds.
He says that, while there are widespread reports of Pakistani and Arab fighters in Somalia, the timing and influx of these fighters appear primarily tied to developments in Somalia and perceptions of Somalia as a suitable location for jihad.
“Nevertheless, al Qaeda operatives coordinate with al-Shabaab’s core leaders and continue to use Somalia as a staging and training base,” he notes.
Pressure in Iraq and Afghanistan is said to have has prompted al-Qaeda operatives to shift some of its operations and efforts to Somalia a development that is of major concern to the US government.
“The rise of al-Shabaab and the increase in foreign fighters operating in Somalia warrants significant concern; several al-Qaeda operatives, most notably Saleh Nabhan, have a history of involvement in East Africa and are currently cooperating with al-Shabaab leaders and involved in training foreign fighters in Somalia.”