ThreatsWatch.Org: Commentary

Big Fish In The Little Somali Pond

The Foreign Influence in the Somali Conflict Raises Important Issues for the West

By Kyle Dabruzzi

For a long while, analysts have grown increasingly concerned that the Somali conflict could spread throughout the Horn of Africa. Well, we can forget Ethiopia, Eritrea and Kenya: there are much bigger and far more dangerous fish swimming in the sea.

A UN-commissioned report has indicated that Iran, Syria and eight other nations have violated the UN sanctioned arms embargo to send weapons to Somalia. According to a BBC report on the UN findings:

What is most striking about this report is the detailed links between countries such as Iran, Syria and Lebanon and the Islamic Courts Union.

For example, the authors say 720 Somali fighters went to Lebanon to help Hezbollah fight Israel in July.

Syria is said to have sent an aircraft full of guns to the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Iran is reported to have sent three shipments of arms to Somalia between July and September.

And one paragraph in the report says two Iranians were in Somalia looking into getting uranium in exchange for supplying arms.

This report, if accurate, shatters many theories and brings to light a number of truths. The first truth is that with foreign support, the ICU could acquire the logistics and supply to completely overtake Somalia. With an influx of weapons, including shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, grenade launchers and machine guns finding their way into the ICU’s hands, the forces in the Puntland region as well as the Ethiopian-backed TFG forces may find it difficult to resist the ICU’s attack. If the ICU is able to overtake Baidoa and secure a stronghold in the south, there will be more than just weapons and munitions flooding into Somalia. With an ICU takeover, -iIt’s entirely possible that Somalia could become the new al-Qaeda base in Africa.

Another important truth is that with this report, it seems pretty clear that Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims are willing to set aside conflicting ideologies and cooperate with each other. Military affairs analyst Bill Roggio observes:

Iranian support of Sunni terrorist groups is hardly a new development. The 9-11 Commission Report clearly lays out the case for cooperation between al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Iran… Iran currently shelters Said bin Laden, Osama's son and successor; Saif al-Adel, al-Qaeda's senior strategist who is said to be third in command of al-Qaeda, as well as about 100 senior and mid-level al-Qaeda commanders (up to 500 al-Qaeda total are said to have fled to Iran after Operation Enduring Freedom).

Clearly, the predominantly Shi’ite country of Iran, among others, has a strategic alliance with the predominantly Sunni al-Qaeda organization. However, it’s difficult to be so naive as to think that terrorist groups who hate the West as much as they clearly do would not work in tandem, setting aside their own differences in pursuit of a common enemy. Indeed, historic and ideological rifts are deeply ingrained in the Sunni-Shia divide. However, a common enemy as threatening to both as the West is poses a much bigger problem.

The foreign support of the ICU also brings an important truth to light with respect to the larger scope of the War on Terror. It must be recognized that our enemy has assimilated into an elusive worldwide network backed by state sponsors and supporters. Most of the pre-conceived notions regarding our enemy have been shattered and it’s time to realize the extent to which our enemy has adapted. Cultural and ideological divisions have been crossed and the threat we now face has materialized beyond the Middle East and continues to grow at the peril of our own inattention.

This report should bring about a sobering wake-up call for the West. With the elections resulting in new leadership in Congress, it is imperative that the US continue to be vigilant in the War on Terror. It is equally important that the United States continue to adapt its strategies. With an ever-changing enemy, we must continue to halt our enemy’s advances, wherever they are. In this case, Somalia is one area that the United States could make some headway. However, it is important that steps be taken quickly in order to stop the ICU from taking over Somalia.