The December ousting of the Islamic Courts Union, the coalition of hard-line sharia courts in Somalia, provides a window of opportunity for reconstructing the nation, which has been torn by strife and violence for the better part of two decades.
Somalia has seen a succession of different organizations and bodies who have tried to assert control over the country. All have failed miserably. The warlords who ran the country until this year produced only violence and chaos. The Islamic Courts Union initially provided some stability, but their brutal implementation of sharia law vexed Somali citizens.
With the ICU on the run, Somalia’s transitional federal government has the opportunity to fill the power vacuum. To do this, they need our help.
The latest military incursions in Somalia have helped root out some of the remaining remnants of the ICU. On January 9, an Air Force AC-130 gunship bombed hideouts in southeastern Somalia where suspected al-Qaeda fighters were holed up. More recently, Somali troops backed by the Ethiopian military routed the ICU’s final stronghold in Ras Kamboni. Both of these operations have succeeded in forcing the ICU to try to regroup outside the country. In fact, the New York Times reports that the Pentagon is looking to adopt these strategies of isolated military incursions as blueprints for further operations around the globe.
However, these military operations won’t solve the problem completely. Proper training and personnel, as well as a desire to fight the long fight, are also needed. Although tactics like these help keep civilian casualties down, they aren’t effective unless military forces are able to keep insurgents from re-occupying previously cleared areas. This has become a persistent problem that President Bush addressed in his latest statement regarding the military situation in Iraq. The ICU seems to be planning an Iraq-style insurgency, so Ethiopian and US military strategists must take into account the lessons learned from Iraq. A half-baked plan for establishing security in Somalia will only lead to an infestation of insurgents.
There is another way to help Somalia rise from the ashes. The Transitional Federal Government, a UN-recognized body, has the opportunity to take hold of the country and rebuild its infrastructure. The current situation is dismal in Somalia. Not only has it been wrecked by these most recent battles, but also the country was ravaged by floods that killed at least 47 people, displaced over 279,000 and destroyed homes and farms. According to a New York Times article, Somali elders are now asking how to provide security, what to do with the remaining Islamists, how to determine the proper role for religion, an important theme in Somali society, and how to rebuild infrastructure. These are important questions and the TFG has the opportunity to answer them.
It isn’t hard to comprehend why the ICU was successful in initially gaining popularity within Somalia. Terrorist groups thrive in regions of anarchy. And in the absence of true leadership, people will accept any rule of law in return for stability. Thus, the ICU’s strategy was to bring stabilization to the country, to help rebuild parts of its infrastructure, to win the support of the people and then to go on to establish their harsh form of sharia law, a tactic reminiscent of the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, the failure of both the Taliban and the ICU to take complete control is evidence that people want more than stability. They also want the freedom to take control of their lives.
I recently had the opportunity to spend time with Dahir Jibreel, former chief of staff for President Abdullahi Yusuf and current permanent secretary in charge of international cooperation for the TFG. He stated that for the first time ever, the governments of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia are cooperating with each other. This is an unprecedented event and one that offers a glimmer of hope for the Horn of Africa. However, he also noted that there are serious problems within Somalia: civil servants and soldiers aren’t getting paid; clean drinking water and basic sanitation is unavailable; police forces are ill-trained and ill-equipped to provide security; and the job market is hurting. It is in these areas that the United States, through public and private investment, can provide assistance.
The United States is in a unique position to help the TFG rebuild Somalia. But that help cannot stop at small military incursions. The U.S. and the international community must help the Transitional Federal Government and the people of Somali take control of their destinies. Our previous lack of diplomatic interest is evidenced by the fact that the United States doesn’t even have an official ambassador to Somalia. It is critical that the United States now reach out to Somalia by opening up diplomatic channels and providing both material assistance and expertise.
A two-pronged approach is necessary to help Somalia rebuild itself. The military forces in the country must be prepared for any attempt by the ICU to create an insurgency and, as such, must be ready and willing to fight the long fight. Simultaneously, the Transitional Federal Government must work diligently to rebuild Somalia’s infrastructure. Mohamad Hilowle echoes the sentiments of many Somalis, stating, “I need peace; I need a government and I need employment as a labourer to support myself and my family.” The TFG has the ability to help men like Hilowle and there are people like Dahir Jibreel who are dedicated to bringing stability and democratic values to Somalia. With American assistance, they stand a chance.
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