US Terror List and Aid

Talking to al-Shabaab, however, carried its own risks. In February 2008, Al-Shabaab had been placed on the State Department’s List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Under US law, neither the US government nor American NGOs could provide any “material support or resources”—even indirectly—to any identified terrorist organization.[36] That made contact with al-Shabaab tricky. What constituted material support? Bowden did not want to fall afoul of that line.

Talking to al-Shabaab might also, ironically, threaten the funding that paid for aid to Somalia. As in other conflict zones, it was difficult to be sure how much aid for Somalia actually reached the intended recipients. Inevitably, some went into the pockets of rebels—through checkpoint bribes, contract bonuses, escort and security fees, inspection taxes, diversion, and outright theft, to name just a few. Al-Shabaab had benefited before, sometimes using the proceeds for arms purchases.[37]

The US had long been the biggest donor of humanitarian aid to Somalia, contributing more than $1 billion since 1991. In 2008 alone, it had given $227.5 million, most of it through USAID contributions to the UN Consolidated Appeal, the joint humanitarian appeal organized and administered by OCHA. More than 40 percent of all 2008 UN humanitarian aid to Somalia came from the US.[38]

But in 2009, Bowden’s first year managing the appeal, US pledges fell to just over $86 million, or 17 percent,[39] and by mid-summer US funding was in danger of disappearing altogether. With rumors circulating about significant diversions to al-Shabaab from the UN World Food Program, the US had already delayed a decision about new funds for Somalia and was threatening to withhold distribution of food from warehouses in Kenya.[40]

If Bowden sent staff back to Baidoa, and another incident occurred, might that imperil funding even further? Just to complicate matters, there were plans afoot for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to meet with TFG President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed on the future of Somalia in early August. It might be a poor moment to be actively negotiating for al-Shabaab cooperation.

[36] Naz K. Modirzadeh, Dustin A. Lewis and Claude Bruderlein, “Humanitarian Engagement Under Counter-Terrorism: A Conflict of Norms and the Emerging Policy Landscape,” International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 93, No. 883, Sept. 2011. See:

[37] Chris Harnisch, “Cutting Humanitarian Aid in Somalia and Fighting Terror,” Critical Threats, Feb. 23, 2010. See:

[38] United Nations, OCHA, 2009 Consolidated Appeal, Somalia Case Statement, p. 112, reporting on the 2008 Consolidated Appeal.

[39] United Nations, OCHA, 2010 Consolidated Appeal, Somalia Case Statement, p. 88, reporting on the 2009 Consolidated Appeal.

[40] UN Security Council, “Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1853 (2008),” Publication S/2010/91, Mar. 10, 2010, pp. 59-66; see: “Legal Roadblocks for U.S. Famine Relief to Somalia Creating Humanitarian Crisis,” Charity and Security Network, Jan. 27, 2010; see: Also Jeffrey Gettleman, “U.S. Delays Somalia Aid, Fearing It Is Feeding Terrorists,” New York Times, Oct. 1, 2009, and Gettleman, “U.N. Says U.S. Delays Led to Aid Cuts in Somalia, “New York Times, Nov. 6, 2009.