Somalia and the War on Terrorism

By: Greg C. Reeson

When an Islamic militia first established a foothold in Somalia by capturing the capital of Mogadishu in June 2006, the United States initially withheld judgment until the intentions of the group could be determined with some certainty. While the militia rejected the label of “terrorist organization,” its actions over the next few months made it clear that Islamic extremists had taken their quest for a radical Muslim state, based entirely on Sharia, to the African nation. Now America may be faced with a new battleground in its global war on terrorism.

The United States has refused to engage in dialogue with the Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SICC) until it renounces some of its more radical positions and practices. Over the past six months there have been multiple reports out of Somalia of beheadings, stonings, and the implementation of severe restrictions on everything from music and movies to the freedoms granted women.

When the SICC continued to make advances throughout the country, the Somali interim government retreated to the town of Baidoa, with protection from the armed forces of Ethiopia. Somalia’s neighbor has repeatedly warned the SICC that it would intervene in the conflict, and that intervention has now become the reality on the ground.

This past week Ethiopian forces launched multiple air strikes against the Islamists as part of their effort to defend the interim government. Fighting continues today with each side claiming to have inflicted significant casualties on the other. This conflict has been coming for a while now, and the threat of a larger regional conflict is looming. Strategic Forecasting (STRATFOR), a private intelligence company in Austin, Texas has reported that the Islamists have made an open call for foreign fighters, both from Ethiopian adversary Eritrea and from other jihadists around the world.

If an African conflict erupts, and if Islamic extremists flock to the continent to participate in the battle for a Taliban-style Somalia, will U.S. and other western forces get involved? Any war on terror would require a response to a new haven for Islamic extremists, but the presence of American or western ground forces in Somalia is just not a realistic expectation. The United States is heavily involved in Afghanistan and Iraq and just does not have the forces available to engage in another fight in Somalia.

So what happens next? STRATFOR has speculated that the United States will increase aid and support to Ethiopian armed forces, and that is probably a safe bet. Getting someone else to do the fighting is always preferable, as long as the interests of the United States can be secured.

Another possible course of action, hypothesized by STRATFOR, is the attempted revival, by the United States, of Somali warlords. This would be dangerous ground indeed, and the likelihood of success is not very high. Warlords, by their very nature, are loyal to those who enhance their power, wealth, and prestige the most. While the SICC has been establishing alliances with the warlords over the past six months, any arrangement with the United States would necessarily be temporary and the thugs running the Somali militias know it.

I suspect Ethiopia and Eritrea will bloody each other in what will hopefully not become a larger regional conflict. Ethiopia is concerned with its borders and is not likely to support the Somali interim government to the degree necessary to eliminate the SICC as a ruling force, despite what appear to be initial battlefield successes. For the United States, other regional realities will delay the expansion of the war on terrorism to Somalia until another day. It is likely that we will have to accept the fact that Somalia will become an Islamic state under the SICC.

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