U.S. Feels Sudan, Iran Help Aidid
WASHINGTON - The United States strongly suspects that the recent hits scored by Mohamed Farrah Aidid against U.N. forces in Somalia are the result of training and weaponry from Sudan and Iran.
Intelligence information since the beginning of the year has pointed to an emerging alliance between Aidid and government-backed, Iranian-trained Muslim fundamentalists in Sudan.
"We have seen some evidence of Sudanese support for factions within Somalia, and we are aware, of course, of the links that do exist between the Iranian government and the Sudanese government," State Department spokesman Michael McCurry said yesterday.
In March, Aidid traveled to Sudan and met with Hassan Turabi, leader of the National Islamic Front - a fundamentalist political party with a militia being trained by Iranian Revolutionary Guards, a U.S. official said.
Turabi offered Aidid help in training his men, and Aidid accepted, said a former administration official familiar with the intelligence reporting about that meeting. The official, like others quoted here, requested anonymity.
Aidid had U.S., Soviet weapons but needed training
Aidid, a Somali former general trained in Moscow and Italy, has large arsenals of Soviet and U.S. small arms that he captured when Somalia's government collapsed in 1991. What he lacked was training for his ragtag loyalists.
In recent weeks, a growing number of intelligence reports say Aidid's militia has received remote-controlled mines - complete with training - with which they have killed dozens of peacekeepers, an intelligence official said.
The training is believed to have been conducted in Sudan, possibly at a guerrilla camp run by Iranians, the official added.
McCurry said "they clearly are using some weaponry that was perhaps not in his (Aidid's) arsenal prior" to the latest spate of attacks.
Some of the weapons are coming from Sudan and some from Kenya, without the latter's approval, a senior administration official said. In addition, some Sudanese working for U.N.-sponsored humanitarian organizations in Somalia are suspected of helping Aidid with intelligence information about the movements of the 28-nation U.N. peacekeeping force, the U.S. official said.
Few details because informers unreliable
But military and intelligence officials are having a hard time pinning down exact details of the Sudanese aid, partly because many of the reports are anecdotal and stem from informers whose reliability is uncertain, the U.S. official explained.
The United States was embarrassed in August when a ship that intelligence reports said was carrying Sudanese weapons to Somalia turned out - after U.S. and French inspectors searched it - to be carrying only sugar.
The United States at the time placed Sudan on a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, accusing the government of harboring terrorists - like the Palestinian Abu Nidal group and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah - and of allowing Iranian Revolutionary Guards to train them.
Experts on Iran say Aidid's tactics in what has evolved into an urban guerrilla war with the United Nations are typically Iranian.
"It's the same tactics used by Hezbollah all the time - remote-detonated mines. It's a typical Iranian m.o.," said Kenneth Katzman of the Congressional Research Service, author of a book about the Revolutionary Guards. Hezbollah typically has used such mines to attack Israeli troops in Lebanon.
Aidid, Sudan and Iran are - in a sense - natural allies, even though the Somali is a largely secular Muslim, said Brian Sullivan, a Sudan expert at the Pentagon's Institute for National Strategic Studies. "It's a case of the enemy of my enemy being my friend," he said, because all three share an enmity against the United States and against U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian and member of the Christian Copt sect considered an avowed enemy of religious extremists.
For Sudan and Iran, Somalia could turn out to be a strategically located zone of influence if Aidid defeats the United Nations and can assume control, Sullivan said.
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