Official Critical Of Somalia Policy Is Transferred

By Bradley Graham and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A U.S. political officer previously responsible for monitoring Somalia received an early transfer to another diplomatic post after expressing concerns about U.S. payments to Somali warlords who are battling Islamic groups, according to several administration officials and outside experts on Africa.

Michael Zorick, who handled Somalia issues from his job as political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, was due for another assignment this summer but left several months early, taking a post in Chad in April.

One U.S. official said yesterday that earlier this year, Zorick used the State Department's "dissent channel" to file a memo critical of U.S. policy in Somalia. But the official disputed suggestions that Zorick's transfer was a punishment. "It wasn't any secret" that his views differed with official policy, said the official, who was authorized to speak only without attribution. The official said Zorick's departure came by "mutual agreement" between him and his embassy superiors.

Another administration official, also barred from speaking for attribution, said that Zorick had initiated the process that led to his temporary transfer to Chad, a placeholder until his next regular assignment becomes available.

Still, the case provided fresh evidence of a sharp dispute within the U.S. government over how to deal with Somalia, a lawless state on the Horn of Africa with no effective government. The capital city of Mogadishu -- scene of a disastrous U.S. military intervention in the early 1990s -- has again become engulfed in violence, with a jihadist militia vying for control.

Reports have circulated for some time of hidden U.S. aid to the warlords, who have styled themselves as a counterterrorism coalition. The support, which is said to be funneled through Pentagon or CIA channels, has drawn objections from some State Department officials and outside specialists on Africa. They argue that the aid program lacks clarity and risks the contrary effect of rallying Islamist groups. Greater effort, they say, should be put into establishing a legitimate central authority in Mogadishu.

"There are those in the U.S. government who feel this policy of paying warlords is not working, but there are others who feel it is a necessary measure," said Ted Dagne, the leading Africa analyst for the Congressional Research Service.

The Bush administration has declined to confirm its backing of the warlords. But it has made no secret of fears of Somalia becoming a haven for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Administration officials have said their policy is to work with those abroad willing to fight terrorism.

According to one source familiar with Zorick's case, the dissent memo was not the only critical cable filed by the diplomat. Zorick reportedly also sent a memo directly to the Pentagon raising concerns about U.S. policy in Somalia.

Asked about Zorick yesterday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he could not discuss "particular personnel matters." But he noted that embassy employees who disagree with U.S. policy can opt for a variety of different mechanisms.

When news of Zorick's transfer appeared yesterday in Newsweek and a Reuters report from Nairobi, Zorick phoned the State Department to provide assurances that he had not leaked the story, an administration official said.

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