Richard Rouget, a gun for hire over two decades of bloody African conflict, is the unlikely face of the American campaign against militants in Somalia.
A husky former French Army officer, Rouget, 51, commanded a group of foreign fighters during Ivory Coast’s civil war in 2003, was convicted by a South African court of selling his military services and did a stint in the presidential guard of the Comoros Islands, an archipelago plagued by political tumult and coup attempts.
Now Rouget works for Bancroft Global Development, an American private security company that the state department has indirectly financed to train African troops who have fought a pitched urban battle in the ruins of this city against the Shabab, the Somali militant group allied with al Qaeda.
The company plays a vital part in the conflict now raging inside Somalia, a country that has been effectively ungoverned and mired in chaos for years.
The fight against the Shabab, a group that U.S. fear could someday carry out strikes against the West, has mostly been outsourced to African soldiers and private companies out of reluctance to send American troops back into a country they hastily exited nearly two decades ago.
Over the past year, the U.S has quietly stepped up operations inside Somalia.
The Central Intelligence Agency, which finances the country’s spy agency, has covertly trained Somali intelligence operatives, helped build a large base at Mogadishu’s airport — Somalis call it “the Pink House” for the reddish hue of its buildings or “Guantánamo” for its ties to the U.S.— and carried out joint interrogations of suspected terrorists with their counterparts in a ramshackle Somali prison.
The Pentagon has turned to strikes by armed drone aircraft to kill Shabab militants and recently approved $45 million in arms shipments to African troops fighting in Somalia.