The tables have turned in Somalia as the al-Qaeda franchise, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), streams violently back into the capital city of Mogadishu. The ICU was routed and the Islamists largely driven from Somalia in an offensive that began in December and ended on Somalia’s southeastern border with Kenya. But the strategy of military diffusion of an ideologically determined enemy – vice actually defeating them in place – has come back to haunt Somalia in short order.
Launching an Iraq-style insurgency from Mogadishu, two suicide car bombers struck an Ethiopian army barracks and killed dozens. The TFG and Ethiopians responded with a counter-insurgency offensive into Mogadishu that is ongoing. In the fighting, said to be the worst in 15 years in Mogadishu, thousands in the crossfire have fled the city. The insurgency has been supplied with anti-aircraft missiles, which were employed to shoot down a Belarusian transport plane shuttling in Ugandan peacekeeping forces and an Ethiopian helicopter. Ethiopian tanks have been destroyed by anti-tank fire and the bodies of killed Ethiopian and TFG troops have been in at least one instance desecrated, burned and dragged through the streets in celebration. To make matters worse, the Ethiopians had already begun to pull out their relatively well-trained forces and return home. They surely will not remain engaged with al-Qaeda’s ICU insurgency for long.
It is not too late to help the Somalis save themselves from being overrun by al-Qaeda’s Islamic Courts Union and having their troubled and embattled nation transformed into an al-Qaeda safe haven and base of terrorist operations. But they require direct help and assistance immediately.
America is the principal prosecutor of the War on Terror and primary pursuer of al-Qaeda. Yet from America, the nascent Somali secular Transitional Federal Government has yet to receive a dime to train, arm or supply their fighters to defend their own land against al-Qaeda in one of the front lines of the War on Terror. How can we allow this to happen and still sleep well at night?
It is understood that discussion of war and the tactical and strategic aspects of war makes the eyes of many glaze over. Since the language of politics remains the dominant American mode of engagement, ironically through the contentious prism of the Iraq War, consider the political translation.
Most opposed to the Iraq War subscribe to the view that al-Qaeda is the principal enemy while insisting that the United States must be more engaged diplomatically in this effort and less militarily. Assisting Somalia diplomatically and financially while they attempt to man a front line post fighting al-Qaeda terrorists should be a shining example of such ideals transformed into policy.
Conversely, most who support the Iraq War also subscribe to the view that al-Qaeda should be relentlessly pursued and denied safe haven wherever and whenever possible. Assisting Somalia diplomatically and financially while they attempt to man a front line post fighting al-Qaeda terrorists should be a shining example of such ideals transformed into policy.
No matter one’s political views, it should be a source of national shame and utter embarrassment that the Islamic Courts Union fighters receive more arms, better equipment and far more funding from al-Qaeda than the Somali Transitional Federal Government receives from the United States. But then that’s not a tall order when the American financial assistance al-Qaeda’s declared enemy remains perpetually zero.
Al-Qaeda’s goal is to destroy the UN-recognized Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and establish Somali territory as the eastern foothold in an envisioned African Islamist crescent that would reach across the continent from Mogadishu to Morocco. Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s #2 man and al-Qaeda’s chief strategic planner, has called for mujahideen from across the world to converge on Somalia and wage jihad and secure for themselves Somali territory.
Last week, on March 25, 2007, Abu Yahia al-Libi, an al-Qaeda terrorist who escaped from an Afghanistan prison two years ago, released a video published on jihadist websites calling once again for mujahideen across the world to rush to Somalia. “The goal of your fight and the purpose of your jihad is the expulsion of the occupier and his helpers and the establishment of an Islamic state in the land of Somalia,” he implored.
After being driven out by Somali, Ethiopian and American forces, the ICU promised to return and wage an Iraq-style insurgency. That is exactly what is happening now. The ICU, commonly referred to as al-Qaeda’s Southern Garrison, is converging once again on Mogadishu and bringing with them seasoned and well-trained al-Qaeda terrorists from Indonesia, Pakistan and elsewhere.
Independent analyst and Niagara University professor, Dr. Abdiweli Ali, said in an interview, “My TFG sources told me earlier that they have captured several Arabs today (March 30, 2007),” while fighting for the insurgency. Many foreign al-Qaeda terrorists were captured during the eviction of the ICU. In a Global Crisis Watch interview on January 15, 2007, TFG Foreign Minister Ismael Hurreh said that at the time, 290 foreign fighters had been captured. They were “people from all parts of Asia, from the Arabian Peninsula, from Pakistan, from Afghanistan, and from quite a number of other places... I know of five Scandinavians, three Brits, at least one Canadian, (and) one Swedish.” On this he added, “So it becomes very clear that this was an international Jihadist adventure.” It remains so, and they are clearly returning.
US intelligence believes that Aden Hashi Ayro, the ICU’s military commander who reportedly leads the insurgency in Mogadishu, received training from al-Qaeda while it was based in Afghanistan. Intelligence sources also believe Ayro has been officially named the emir of al-Qaeda in Somalia.
Conquering Somalia is a global priority for al-Qaeda, and its leadership is clearly determined to ensure that the proper jihadiyun resources are driven onto the battlefield. That Somali battlefield now sees fully two-thirds of the original Ethiopian forces now withdrawn back into Ethiopia. And the USS Eisenhower carrier group that once helped Task Force 150 block al-Qaeda’s ocean supply lines from Yemen to Somalia has now repositioned beyond Yemen and into the Persian Gulf. Aside from Task Force 150 doing its best to patrol the water between Yemen and Somalia, all that remains to defend are motivated but ill-equipped, ill-trained and unpaid Somali TFG forces and the remaining one-third of the Ethiopian forces.
There are between 1,500 and 1,700 Ugandan soldiers in Mogadishu as the only fulfilled contingent of an African Union pledge of an 8,000 troop peacekeeping force. But the Ugandan forces have reached an agreement with the Hawiye clan, the most powerful in Mogadishu, and the two sides have pledged not to fire on one another. The Hawiye clan has deep connections to the ICU. These ties include several elders in the ICU leadership, including Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, second in command under Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.
Considering the fighting in Mogadishu currently is between the TFG forces and a largely Hawiye-manned insurgency, the Hawiye-Ugandan deal potentially relegates the AU ‘peacekeeping’ force to a non-participant observer at best. The Ugandan AU forces may prove as effective at defending the UN-recognized TFG as the UNIFIL force has been at honoring the UN Security Council mandate of disarming Hizballah in southern Lebanon.
The TFG forces are left essentially on an island alone, with disengaged AU peacekeepers, capable Ethiopian forces already two-thirds withdrawn to Ethiopia, and blocking forces of the US Navy now on the other side of the Arabian Peninsula. All the while, al-Qaeda is streaming human and military resources to the battlefield.
By nature, al-Qaeda and other similarly aligned Islamist terrorist movements derive their power from the grassroots level. Islamist terrorists require successful recruitment and radicalization of the disaffected and/or combatively inclined at mosques and other places within local communities. Without this, such terrorist movements become or remain ideological heads without effective combatant arms. One of the keys, therefore, to defeating al-Qaeda (et al) is to engage it at the grassroots level whenever and wherever possible. To dry up once-fertile recruiting grounds is to starve such groups of the human resources desperately needed in continuous supply.
Witness the grassroots effect in Iraq. The leadership of al-Qaeda recognized the grassroots importance when on natives’ soil. It is why they created the umbrella Islamic State of Iraq and installed an Iraqi, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, as its figurehead, with al-Qaeda in Iraq technically relegated to a perceived subservient role.
American military leadership recognized this and has countered heavily at the local level as well, most effectively since the arrival of new MNF-I Commanding General David Petraeus. Now, more and more local tribes and clans are teaming with the Americans and turning on al-Qaeda in al-Anbar province, long al-Qaeda in Iraq’s primary refuge. At the clan and tribal levels on the ground, more Anbar Iraqis are identifying al-Qaeda as murderous intruders rather than foreign guests. In fact, there are now more tribes cooperating with Iraqi and American forces against al-Qaeda in Iraq than are aligned with bin Laden’s legions. And when al-Qaeda in Iraq is eventually reduced and defeated in Iraq, it will clearly be far more due to the loss of popular local support or submission rather than direct Coalition military might.
Perhaps nowhere is this grassroots approach more primed to see measures of immediate success than in Somalia.
In Somalia, a grassroots effort means first having the indigenous security forces necessary to protect a new secular democratic system. And in a clan-centric Somalia, that system must be built from the local level up, not from the top level down. For such a grassroots system to be effective and begin incorporating the invested trust of the population, it needs to be active and visible where they can see the effects – which means in their neighborhoods, within their clans and in their towns. They must feel a genuine sense of empowerment and say within their government – a sense of ownership and responsibility. Only then will such a system earn the needed ‘buy-in’ of the individual. Only after such a grassroots approach can the broader institutions of the government begin to be effective, such as a parliament for national issues, grievances and concerns.
Dahir Mirreh Jibreel, the Permanent Secretary in Charge of International Cooperation in the TFG’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has submitted such a plan that would afford Somalia a fighting chance in the face of an al-Qaeda predator. Without it, Somalis are left the choice between warlord anarchy and the only semblance of system, al-Qaeda’s Islamic Courts Union.
Mr. Jibreel calls for enough support to train, equip and pay a security force of 45,000 that would comprise an army, police, coast guard, national intelligence and prison guards. Second, the plan calls for support for the formation of local district governments and regional governments. Third, comes the support for and formation of a functioning federal government.
But Dahir Jibreel sees a federal-centric approach as a losing proposition considering the cultural dynamics of his native Somalia. While support from America for any approach at all would be greatly welcomed, Mr. Jabril exclaims, “How on earth can the United States expect to achieve a stable Somalia without investing in local components?” Perhaps the more immediate question is, ‘How can the United States expect to achieve a stable Somalia without investing in any components?’
But a stable Somalia can be achieved and an al-Qaeda base of operations thwarted, Jibreel says, for only $27 million per month to implement the three necessary steps of security forces, local governance and federal institutions.
For moral perspective, this nation has spent more money trying to save a small fish called the snail darter in 1979. The State Department has provided $40 million dollars. But $16 million was in much needed humanitarian aid and the remaining $26 million is to support the Ugandan peacekeepers currently making disengagement deals with those participating in attacks on the TFG and Ethiopian forces. No funding at all has gone to directly support the TFG forces currently trying to stave off the well-funded al-Qaeda offensive.
Dahir Mirreh Jabril’s request on behalf of the Somali Transitional Federal Government should be met without pause. If a better plan is to emerge, the United States should accept recommendations and make adjustments on the fly rather than spend precious days and weeks as the tides turn in Somalia. To wait for the ‘perfect solution’ is surely to sacrifice the whole of Somalia to al-Qaeda in the interim. With a withdrawing Ethiopian force, a disengaged Ugandan ‘peacekeeping’ force and an ever-strengthening al-Qaeda insurgency, the TFG will likely not survive the spring alone and without assistance.
Many in our government this week are going to put on their $150 sweat suits, lace up their $75sneakers, grab their $3 water bottle and head to the gym for casual exercise. Meanwhile, in Somalia men are grabbing their weapons to fight a vicious al-Qaeda on the front lines of the War on Terror without uniforms, without boots (many of them barefoot), and without so much as a canteen. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
There is one clear choice for the future of Somalia going forward. With proper American support, a secular and democratic Somalia with local clan representation at district, regional and federal government levels will emerge. With proper American support, Somalis will fight to achieve this and defeat the emerging al-Qaeda insurgency and save their own lands. Without proper American support, Somalia will with certainty succumb to al-Qaeda-aligned Islamists and become another Islamic State, complete with terrorist safe haven and a repressed people.
The choice is ours. Pray we have not already made it.