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New U.S. Secretary of Defense initiated a diplomatic gambit to negotiate with Al-Shabaab

Saturday November 14, 2020

In this Sept. 24, 2020, file photo, National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher C. Miller testifies during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Miller ascended to the role of acting defense secretary after President Trump fired Mark T. Esper this week.Credit (Tom Williams/Pool via AP)

Mogadishu (HOL) - Christopher C. Miller, the new U.S. acting secretary of defense, spearheaded a controversial plan last month to "buy off" nearly a dozen Al-Shabaab leaders, according to the New York Times. The diplomatic gambit was aborted after it came to the attention of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who dismissed the idea.

Miller, who was described by the Times as "a little-known counterterrorism official", flew to Doha on the weekend of October 10-12 to meet with the Qatari foreign minister, senior officials and counterterrorism experts. They discussed ways to marginalize Al-Shabaab leadership by either persuading younger fighters to rebel against their leadership or by paying off senior leadership to step out of the global jihadi limelight.

Miller reportedly received the go-ahead from Kash Patel - then a senior official and the National Security Council and currently Miller's chief of staff at the Department of Defense - and President Trump's national security advisor Robert C. O'Brien. The plan eventually worked its way up the Qatari government and ultimately approved for exploration by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Qatar's emir.

Qatar has previously acted as an interlocutor between Al-Shabaab, the Taliban and other Al-Qaeda linked groups and western intelligence agencies who either lack the informants on the ground or to deliver sensitive services. Most recently, Qatar was connected with the release of Italian aid worker Silvia Romana who was being held by Al-Shabaab. Romano's release purportedly involved the cooperation between Italy, Turkey, Qatar and Somalia who all had different but overlapping interests.

Miller devised a plan to work with Qatari and Norwegian diplomats to hammer out the logistics. However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed the idea as insufficiently thought out and brimming with public-relations risk. The proposal was essentially dead-on-arrival when it arrived at the State Department's Africa Bureau.


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