Wednesday, January 10, 2007

GWOT comes to Somalia

It has been a long while since I wrote a post and so much has happened in the meantime. In Somalia, Ethiopian forces have made short shrift of the much vaunted Union of Islamic Courts. In less than two weeks, the courts have been routed from many of the towns they formerly controlled and what remains of their forces is now trapped on the southern tip of the country. The noose around them is tightening as the Ethiopians advance from the north, the Kenyan border to the south and west remains closed and American warships cut off any eastward escape to the sea.

The parallels with the second Gulf War are rather unsettling. As was the case with Iraqi army, many of the armed men whose allegiance lay with the Courts simply vanished in the face of Ethipoia’s overwhelming force. Now Al-Qa'ida's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri is calling for “Muslim brethren everywhere to respond to the call for jihad in Somalia” employing “ambushes, mines, raids, and martyrdom-seeking (suicide) campaigns”. Right on cue, today brought news of American air strikes against elements of the ICU fleeing Mogadishu. As usual, US policy seems peculiarly designed to create the maximum number of terrorists.

If there was one place where America was helpful by its military absence, Somalia was it. For as long as no American forces were seen to take part in the fighting, the task force off the Somali coast notwithstanding, it would have been difficult for Al-Qaida to turn Somalia into a cause célèbre for jihadists around the world. However, by launching these air strikes, instead of waiting for the Ethiopians to finish the job, the US may have just provided the fuel for another Iraq-type “insurgency”. I suspect that many jihadists, whose goal in life seems to be to die fighting the “Great Satan”, will now be attracted by the new opportunities to do so in Somalia. It is these foreign fanatics who have the funding, expertise and will to create havoc on such a scale that the last 15 years would seem a paragon of peace and order. This conflict, which has previously been cast as a purely African affair, is in danger of becoming another front in the disastrous War on Terror. And it is Africans who would shoulder the awful burden of such an eventuality.

The air strikes also work to undermine the Transitional Federal Government by leaving it open to accusations of being a US puppet. While it is common knowledge that the US provided diplomatic cover for the Ethiopian action, the TFG itself has not so far been described as an American imposition. Considering the last US foray into Somalia, such a charge could prove fatal to President Abdullahi Yusuf’s ambitions of exerting his authority over the whole of Somalia.

Also this week, an interesting story from the UK about the furore raised over the decision by a former Education Secretary to take her kid out of public schooling and into private school. The merits of that particular case notwithstanding, I generally consider it hypocritical for those who manage education and health systems to turn to the private sector for the same services for themselves and their families. Such a disdain of the fruits of their own handiwork hardly inspires confidence. But don’t look to our Kenyan backbenchers or the opposition to make an issue of it. They are too busy lining their own pockets to care about public services.


3N said...

Gathara, great analysis on the Somalia crisis. Only point I would add is the potential of terrorists attacks in Kenya.
Since it is harder to attack the US Somali's terrorists will attack who they perceive as sympathetic to the transitional government (Kenya & Ethiopia).
Happy new year.

Gathara said...

It s not the power-hungry indigenous Somalis I am afraid of. They have largely managed to contain the chaos of the last 15 years within their borders.

My chief concern is that the US strikes will morph this conflict into another front in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and the consequent influx of jihadists into Somalia, with the sadly all too imaginable horrors following close behind.

Now, I am of the firm belief that terrorism is a global problem and that terrorists should be confronted everywhere by all societies. However, it is foolhardy to seek such a confrontation by give providing them with a pretext for bombing and maiming. The US experience in Iraq is proof enough of that.

coldtusker said...

I think the US should have stayed out entirely & let the Ethiopians & Somalis do the dirty work for them.

I have a feeling the idea was to kill some al-qaeda folk but air raids are too "open"... or let the Ethiopians make the air raids... i.e. have the jets come in from the Ethiopian side rather than Djibouti.

Kenya is in a pickle BUT I agree with closing the border. Let the UNHCR set up camps in Somalia if they are concerned!

3N said...

I agree colDTusker, the UNHCR has to shut up and appreciate that Kenyan authorities have their citizenry's welfare to worry about.
Other than a 'peaceful nation' is there anything more we gain by sacrificing our country as a refugee haven?

Gathara said...

coldtuske and 3n,
The issue of the closed border is not as simple as you are painting it. The UN and other aid agencies cannot provide assistance to the displaced within Somalia unless the Kenya government allows their trucks to cross over into Somalia to deliver the aid and then cross back. So far, the closed border precludes that.

Also, the UNHCR is right when it stresses that Kenya has ratified conventions on refugees. We are thus duty bound not to turn away fleeing peoples.

The border closure, I believe, is largely motivated by 2 objectives. First to prevent the radical Islamists getting into Kenya and radicalising our own Muslim populations. Second, to tighten the noose around them in southern Somalia by preventing their escape from the Ethiopian and US forces.

As a short term measure, I support the policy. And I stress "short term". A long term border closure is unsustainable and may set the stage for the radicalising of the suffering populace on the other side. And angry Muslim fanatics on our borders is not the outcome any of us would like to see.