Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Our Policy in Somalia

Andrew McGregor has more information on the recent battles in Somalia between Islamists and secular warlords, a conflict I previously referred to here. McGregor seems quite skeptical that there is a significant al-Qaeda element involved with the Somali Islamists, a question to which I don't have an answer. He further suggests that the warlord alliance is losing its battle. Members of this alliance do seem to be using the American campaign against terrorism to get American backing the same way dictators such as Iran's Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi used to win American support by portraying their enemies as communists. Claims like this don't sound convincing, however:
"Muhammad Dhere, an important ATA leader, claims that Arab and Asian al-Qaeda members have been joined in Mogadishu by members of Ethiopia's Oromo Liberation Front, offering the observation that some fighters were covering their faces, obvious 'proof' of their foreign origins (HornAfrik, May 19). The warlord also accuses numerous members of parliament of being al-Qaeda members, and further claims that 70 MPs are agents of hostile foreign countries (Shabelle Media Network, May 19). Increasingly, accusations of al-Qaeda links have become a common way for the warlords to discredit political opponents."

McGregor also calls attention to the fact that efforts to fight those accused of being terrorist sympathizers and rebuild Somalia appear to be hindering each other:
"The already fragile TFG is in danger of collapse due to Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Gedi's failure to force the return of cabinet ministers engaged in the Mogadishu fighting. Members of Parliament have called for his resignation, while other MPs accuse the United States of taking revenge on Somalia for U.S. losses in Mogadishu in 1993 (HornAfrik, May 17). The absent ministers are close to being dismissed from the government, which would effectively destroy any chance of the TFG establishing itself as an accepted government.

"ATA warlord Muhammad Qanyare has complained that the TFG has 'no respect for the [counter-terrorist] work we are doing.' Qanyare explains the absence of the ATA warlords from their cabinet posts by noting that 'we are busy fighting with terrorists now. We don't have time for the government' (Shabelle Media Network, May 24, May 25). Both the TFG and Somali popular opinion hold that the ATA is a collection of paid agents of the United States government. The presence of U.S. warships off Mogadishu and evening flights over the city by U.S. reconnaissance planes has tended to reinforce these perceptions (Haatuf News, Somaliland, May 10).

"With the dictates of counter-terrorism in conflict with the methods of nation-building, Somalia is on the verge of another collapse. The battle in Mogadishu is spilling over into a wave of assassinations, grenade attacks and gunfights throughout Somalia. In the capital itself, firing tends to be indiscriminate and thousands of civilians are once more fleeing for safety. U.S. food aid programs are not enough to offset the belief of U.S. responsibility for this new round of misery. If the United States has indeed thrown its support behind the ATA, its efforts appear to be counter-productive. Most ATA fighters battle for pay and the promise of loot. Any serious setbacks or an exhaustion of ATA funds are likely to result in the rapid dissolution of the "anti-terrorist" coalition and a triumph for Mogadishu's Islamists."

I feel like there's probably another side to this portrayal of the situation, so I don't want to say anything too strong. However, one does wonder if efforts have been made to incorporate the Islamists into a unified government, and then bribe them into denying terrorists a safe haven. Letting Somalia slip further into chaos in the hopes that a bunch of warlords will act as trustworthy agents in fighting terrorism doesn't seem like a viable long-term strategy.

UPDATE: The International Crisis Group issued this report last summer on the rise of al-Qaeda in Somalia. However, the Executive Summary also says:
"The threat of jihadi terrorism in and from Somalia is real. But attempts by the new Somali leadership and its regional allies to exploit this threat for short-term political gain risk plunging the country into even greater crisis. Several key leaders in the deeply divided transitional government are notorious for smearing adversaries and critics with allegations of terrorist linkages -- conduct that threatens to deepen the schisms within the government. More alarmingly, the faction of the TFG aligned with the interim president has tried to use the threat of terrorism to justify deployment of a regional intervention force to Somalia -- a widely unpopular and deeply divisive proposition that would not only irrevocably split the government and trigger renewed conflict, but would also dramatically strengthen the jihadis.

"Ultimately, the threat of jihadi terrorism from Somalia can only be addressed through the restoration of stable, legitimate and functional government. Dealing with that threat requires Somalia's friends to do more to assist in bringing Somali society together again and rebuilding the state. But such assistance must be carefully planned and finely calibrated in order to ensure that it does not empower one faction of the TFG at the expense of another or otherwise destabilise a fragile peace process."

UPDATE: See more on this at American Footprints.


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