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War Imminent in Somalia

With the collapse of the third round of talks in Khartoum between the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Somalia now rests on the brink of an all-out-conflict that has the potential to spread beyond its borders. Reports are now indicating that Somali Islamists have test fired rockets in preparation for war against the Ethiopian-backed TFG. Residents in the town of Burhakaba noted that hundreds of Islamists soldiers were deployed overnight and began firing heavy munitions Friday morning.

Both forces are now within 30 km of each other, and with these rocket tests, it is entirely possible that hostilities could begin soon. Recently, hundreds of ex-Somali soldiers joined the ranks of the ICU. Lieutenant Colonel Abdi Guled, presenting 692 former Somali soldiers to the ICU, 44 of which are officers, indicated that “we are ready to take part in defending our country and we will be part of the Islamic Courts.” Moreover, the Islamist leadership appears ready and willing to initiate the fighting. Maalim Hashi Ahmed, a senior Islamist leader, indicated that “the onus is on us to start the fighting. We will be the first to strike. If someone takes your shirt, it is upon you to repossess it. That is what we plan to do.”

After learning of the collapsed talks in Khartoum, the United States Embassy issued an advisory to all American citizens living in Kenya and Ethiopia warning them of possible suicide bombings in the area. The embassy asked that Americans be vigilant and exercise caution because prominent landmarks within Kenya and Ethiopia are likely the targets of these attacks. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross notes that the advisory was potentially issued due to the belief that the ICU, in mounting this final assault on Baidoa, is planning to take extra territorial action against members of the TFG residing in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Aside from that, the upcoming war could have serious positive implications for the global jihadist movement. If the ICU is able to overtake Baidoa and establish its authority, the entire portion of southern Somalia could become another safe haven for al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups. Just recently, an eight-member terrorist cell, including 3-4 Australians, with ties to al-Qaeda was arrested in Yemen for planning to smuggle arms across the Gulf of Aden into Somalia. Allegedly, two of the Australian men are the sons of Abdul Rahim Ayub, who set up a Jemmah Islamiyya cell in Australia and whose twin brother fought alongside Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Rohan Gunaratna, director of terrorism studies at the Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore observed that “Somalia is an emerging training ground for jihadis… After they suffered the loss of Afghanistan, they want to control a state and it’s likely that Somalia will be the next venue.”

The recent acquisition of the Waziristan region in Pakistan was a tremendous victory for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. They now control the entire region and have begun planning operations against the Musharraf government. Pending the outcome of the conflict in Somalia, the global jihadist movement may yet obtain another base from which to plan and coordinate attacks. This possibility has significant consequences and should finally raise eyebrows in the United States, as many have thus far taken scant interest in these important developments.