February 6, 2015

Written by

Jack Serle
This page is archived from original Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporting on US military actions in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

US drone strikes are raising al Shabaab’s profile and inflating its importance, BBC World Service Africa editor Mary Harper told the Bureau’s Drone News podcast.

Focusing on al Shabaab with sophisticated drone technology “gives [al Shabaab] almost a legitimacy in terms of the kind of group that they are claiming to be,” said Harper. The US’s strategy makes the group like “a global force to be reckoned with, even though they are in fact just a group of people running around in the Somali bush”, she said.

Listen to the podcast here

The Bureau spoke with Harper, who has covered Africa for 20 years, and Mohammed Mohammed, an editor on the BBC World Service’s Somali service.

Mohammed said the US is now getting better intelligence about the locations of its targets in Somalia, improving its drone strikes. “I don’t know how the Americans have managed, but it seems now that drones have become a force to be reckoned with,” he said.

“Basically it’s money that is being used to elicit this information,” Harper added. “If they give information about a senior member of al Shabaab they are paid really significant amounts of money – $10,000 if not more,” she said.

This is having serious consequences for the Somali population, Mohammed explained. Al Shabaab releases propaganda videos of alleged spies, claiming they plant mobile phones on al Shabaab members or in their houses in order to guide in the drones. These supposed spies are then executed.

Main image of Al Shabaab soldiers advance through Somalia via Flickr/undergroundchurch-somalia)