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Eritrea = state sponsor of terrorism

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Washington, June 12, 2009 | comments

For the State Department to label a country a "state sponsor of terrorism" is the diplomatic death sentence.  This blacklisting bans arms sales and economic aid and more.  The state sponsor list is a true rogue's gallery: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.  [Diplomats dropped North Korea last year, hoping to persuade it to end its nuclear program - opps!]  I chaired the Africa Subcommittee for eight years and am on the Terrorism Subcommittee now.  There is no question that Eritrea, a small country in the Horn of Africa that split from Ethiopia in 1993, should be on this list.

This week I offered an amendment to State Department legislation calling on Eritrea to be designated a state sponsor of terrorism.   This is a detailed process.  In this case, amendments had to be "filed" with the Rules Committee by noon Monday; in all, there were about 80.  The next day, the Rules Committee met in its cramped Capitol room to hear pitches from House members on why their amendments had merit.  The Committee then retreated to back offices to decide which would be made "in order".  Only 27 were, to be debated on Wednesday on the House floor.  No explanations given.  The majority party logic is to prevent their members from having to take votes on issues that may hurt them in the next election, ... but I digress.  The good news: my amendment survived. 

The Horn of Africa is a combustible mix: al-Qaeda, piracy, a failed state in Somalia, border tensions.  Eritrea has been a key instigator of this violence.  As my amendment indicates, U.N. reports and U.S. officials continually cite it for providing arms and military training to members of the Shabaab - an al-Qaeda linked group that our government has designated a “foreign terrorist organization."  If this is what the U.N. finds -- you know it's bad!    

The picture above --propaganda film footage-- is the actual Shabaab fighter who shot down a cargo plane with a shoulder-fired missile, supplied by Eritrea.  But what if instead it was a civilian jet-liner?  American passengers fly in this region.   

Eritrea and the Horn is not as remote as it seems.  The FBI is greatly concerned about Somali-Americans who have gone missing from American cities.  (See Foreign Intrigue post: "Somali immigrants disappear - destination jihad?")  They are worried that they have gone to Somalia to link with these terrorist groups.  And it is Eritrea that is providing them with weapons and military training.

The case against Eritrea is compelling, overwhelming.  It has been for sometime.  The Obama Administration’s Assistant Secretary of State for Africa has said, "the Government of Eritrea continues to supply weapons and munitions to extremists and terrorist elements."  This isn't news - the Bush Administration called it the same.  

Still, my amendment went down.  Opponents said that "Eritrean President Isaias Akwerki sent a letter to President Obama expressing the desire to engage on these issues..."  Engage on these issues!  This is the same tyrant who has had Eritrea locked down for 15 years -- once asking, "What is free press? There is no free press anywhere."  But the majority party carried the day, winning 245-183.  They closed their eyes.  I'll keep looking at the facts.

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