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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A grim assessment for Somalia

Found here:
....[T}he people badly need help. Almost one in four Somalis require outside assistance to survive and the Islamic militants who imposed security, while demanding piety, are gone. The warlords are ascendant and aid workers are afraid to go back in.

Second, the United States can do little by itself. A botched intervention in the early 1990s left 18 U.S. servicemen dead and the legacy of the "Black Hawk Down" battle still weighs heavily on both countries. American boots on the ground is not an option.

"An African peacekeeping force is a good start to bring about stability," said Frazer, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa. She took that message to the presidents of Somalia, Uganda, Djibouti, Yemen as well as Ethiopia's prime minister and the African Union's deputy chairman.

A meeting of U.S., European Union, African and Arab diplomats ended in Kenya on Friday with a call for a peacekeeping force envisioned at 8,000 soldiers.
I note that while "American boots on the ground" seems to have been ruled out in some circles, the U.S. is apparently offering some support from the sky:
A U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship attacked suspected al-Qaeda members in southern Somalia on Sunday, and U.S. sources said the operation may have hit a senior terrorist figure.

The strike took place near the Kenyan border, according to a senior officer at the Pentagon. Other sources said it was launched at night from the U.S. military facility in neighboring Djibouti. It was based on joint military-CIA intelligence and on information provided by Ethiopian and Kenyan military forces operating in the border area.
And the U.S. is also involved offshore:
U.S. warplanes from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower have already flown intelligence-gathering missions over Somalia while their aircraft carrier deploys off the wartorn African nation's coast, the U.S. military said Tuesday.

The U.S. military sent the USS Eisenhower to join three other U.S. warships conducting anti-terror operations off the coast of Somalia, and planes from the carrier have begun flying over the country, said U.S. Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Brown in Bahrain, where the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is based.
Brown said the Eisenhower will join the guided missile cruisers USS Bunker Hill and USS Anzio and the amphibious landing ship USS Ashland, which are patrolling the Somali coast in search of Al Qaeda members thought to be fleeing Somalia in the wake of Ethiopia's December invasion.

Navy crews aboard the Bunker Hill, Anzio and Ashland have been halting, boarding and searching commercial ships off the Somali coast, Brown said. No terror suspects have been found aboard any of the ships, he said.

"That's a sign that what we're doing is working," Brown said. "We're trying to deter the terrorists from using the sea. If we haven't detained anyone, that shows us that it's working."
See also here.

Of course, al Qaeda is calling for jihad:
A new audio message from al-Qaida's number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urges all Muslims to go to Somalia to help Islamic extremists there.

"I call upon my brothers the Muslims everywhere to participate in jihad in Somalia," said Zawahiri in the message, which was posted on the Internet ...."I call upon the lions ... in every land of Islam: set out and support your brothers in Somalia by souls, money, advice, and experience," said Zawahiri, according to a translation provided by the SITE Institute...Zawahiri, echoing recent calls by some Islamic Courts leaders, sought to cast the situation in religious terms, calling the Ethiopian military "Crusader forces," and urging attacks on them. "Hurt the slaves of America," he said.
Ethiopia has its own problems. And some "experts" downplay the al Qaeda message:
Stirring as it might sound, an Internet appeal from Al-Qaeda for Muslims to go to Somalia and wage holy war is unlikely to amount to much, experts on Islamic extremism say.

Penetrating the lawless and strife-torn Horn of Africa country is difficult, if not impossible, they say, and even if jihadis got in, they would find its Islamist insurgents surrounded and near defeat.
Egyptian military expert Mohammed Nabil Fuad said that, having lost their last stronghold at Kismayo, the Islamist militias have found themselves "surrounded, and it will be hard for them to receive volunteers and weapons".

"What's more, given the desert-like nature of the terrain, any movement would be easy to detect -- and any infiltration would be almost impossible by the sea, which is controlled by US forces" and those of other nations.

Saudi political analyst Zuhair al-Harithi said that "Zawahiri's appeal risks being a pious hope".

But he observed: "Having been pursued in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al-Qaeda seems to be looking to gain a foothold in Somalia, which is fertile land for extremist ideologues due to its deplorable economic situation."

"Success for Al-Qaeda hangs on the way the situation in Somalia develops," he added.

"If the government can ensure security for Somalis, it will close the door on Al-Qaeda. But if instability and civil war persists, Somalia will be fertile ground" for the terrorist network spearheaded by
Osama bin Laden.

Fellow Saudi analyst Hani Nakchabandi agreed.

"Security hinges on bread and prayer. Zawahiri's call will only be a sermon in the desert if the government ensures security for Somalis," he said.

"The Muslims to whom Zawahiri is directing his remarks have noticed how previous calls to jihad in Afghanistan and Iraq have led to Guantanamo, death or prison," Nakchabandi said.

"I doubt very much that such Muslims, dismayed by the hanging of Saddam Hussein, will be interested in what's going on in Somalia."
There is another view:
amal Ismail, director of the Al-Quds information centre... begged to differ, saying that Zawahiri's remarks will find favour amongst Al-Qaeda's supporters and sympathisers.

"Of course, getting into Somalia involves many obstacles and dangers, due mainly to the geographic environment," said Ismail...

"But neither land and sea patrols, nor patrols along the Kenya border, will stop the infiltration (of jihadis). It certainly would be difficult, but it would not be impossible."

On the Internet in recent days, many Islamists have expressed the hope that "the war has only just started" and that "Somalia will be a place to wage guerrilla combat, following the example of Afghanistan and Israel".
UPDATE: More on U.S. airstrikes here from the BBC. Interesting quote:
Somalia's interim President Abdullahi Yusuf backed the US action.

"The US has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania," he said in Mogadishu, a day after entering the city for the first time since the Islamists withdrew.
BBC map of naval forces and airstrikes.

UPDATE2: U.S. boots on the ground? Says so here.

UPDATE3: In for an penny... more on airstrikes here:
A U.S. air strike hit targets in southern Somalia where Islamic militants were believed to be sheltering suspects in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies, Somali officials and witnesses said Tuesday. Many people were reported killed.
Helicopter gunships launched new attacks Tuesday near the scene of a U.S. air strike in the village of Hayi, although it was not clear if they were American or Ethiopian aircraft, and it was not known if there were any casualties.

Two helicopters "fired several rockets toward the road that leads to the Kenyan border," said Ali Seed Yusuf, a resident of the town of Afmadow in southern Somalia.

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