Oct 27, 2006 3:20 pm


Is anyone paying attention to developments in remote Somalia?

This is a country that has been rent by Hobbesian war and chaos following the collapse of stable government in 1991. Since the late Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Aideed administered a bloody nose to US forces in 1993 (the Black Hawk Down episode), the US has been loath to intervene with its own forces in that country.

Yet there are several reasons why the US should be afraid, very afraid, of what is occurring in Somalia. The country is strategically located on the Horn of Africa, which is only a boat ride away from Yemen. It is a time-honoured gateway to Africa from the Middle East. No visas are needed to enter Somalia. There has been no police force and no effective central authority and although these look like coming into being, they are not of a type with which the democratic world can feel secure.

That emergent authority is the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), the head of whose consultative shura council is Al-Qaeda ally, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who has been a specially designated global terrorist in US law since November 2001. Aweys is one of three individuals believed responsible for the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania who are currently sheltered by the ICU. Aweys's protégé, Aden Hashi 'Ayro, reportedly received terrorist training in Afghanistan in 2001.

Until now, as this Washington Post report indicates, the US response to these developments has been to back a conglomerate of warlords of dubious reliability and convergent interest. With their defeat in June at the hands of the ICU, the US has needed a new strategy but has yet to evolve one.

Somalia's increasingly beleaguered transitional government, operating out of the city of Baidoa, is now under direct attack since the ICU took control of critical Indian Ocean ports. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Bill Roggio explain:

In the past month, the ICU has begun to make overt moves against the transitional federal government. The most dramatic came on September 18, when the presidential convoy faced a multi-pronged suicide car bombing attack just minutes after President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed delivered a speech to the transitional parliament. Six government officials died in what was the first suicide strike in Somalia's history. There were further casualties in an ensuing gun battle, but President Ahmed escaped unscathed.

Meanwhile, money is pouring into the ICU from sources within that estimable American ally, Saudi Arabia. It is in fact the chief source of funds for the ICU. As J. Peter Pham explained last month, a not insignificant contribution to the Islamists' victory came from a massive fraud involving a money transfer business that operated until a few months ago with licenses in several US states, including Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Additionally, Arab, Afghan, Kashmiri, Pakistani, Palestinian, and Syrian fighters are entering the country.

The US military is stretched by global commitments, yet it possesses in nearby Djibouti the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, composed of marines, special operations forces, civil affairs teams, and a US and international naval task force. In neighbouring Ethiopia, it has a military force that in the mid-1990s intervened in Somalia to destroy the al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, the precursor of the ICU. Kenya too has interests at stake and has organised forces along the Somali border.

Has Washington a strategy?

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