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Reversal of Fortunes in Somalia: Mogadishu Siege

Ethiopia has emerged as the only nation willing to directly confront the al-Qaeda franchise Islamic Courts Union in Somalia, driving into the east African nation with tanks and pushing the Islamists and their fighters - including foreign terrorists poured in from around the Middle East - back to the eastern shores of Mogadishu.

After rolling though Somalia and driving the ICU out of Somali cities and towns along the way, Ethipian forces have pulled up and surrounded Mogadishu. A siege strategy like that once employed by the ICU on the last remaining Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) stronghold of Baidoa is being employed by Ethiopian forces. The stated intent is to avoid civilian losses.

But the Telegraph’s Mike Pflanz notes the likely futility of such a move “as Mogadishu sits on the Indian Ocean, allowing sympathetic foreign fighting forces to land on the beach to reinforce and re-arm” the Islamist forces via their al-Qaeda lifeline. An American-led naval blockade would greatly assist by sealing the fourth side of a three-sided Ethiopian siege effort.

But the United States is calling for a return to negotiations in Somalia, and it remains to be seen whether American naval forces will be ordered to assist the forward-leaning Ethiopian government and its unapologetic engagement of the Islamists seeking an al-Qaeda foothold on the Horn of Africa.

While noting American support of Ethiopian actions, State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos also signaled a less than forward-leaning American approach to action on the Horn by also saying, “We’ve instructed our ambassadors in the region to meet with governments to urge them to pressure Somalis to return to the negotiating table. We do not believe this can be resolved on the battlefield.” The African Union has demanded an outright withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia.

Speaking to the UN Security Council Tuesday, Kofi Annan’s special representative to Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, echoed such demands and calls. “Unless a political settlement is reached through negotiations, Somalia, I am afraid, will face a period of deepening conflict and heightened instability, which would be disastrous for the long-suffering people of Somalia, and could also have serious consequences for the entire region,’’ he said.

But the long-suffering people of Somalia face even greater long-term perils – as does the rest of the region and the world – through resumed inaction that would allow the Islamic Courts Union and its al-Qaeda ‘management’ to continue its progress, allowing an al-Qaeda terrorist foothold and Taliban-style Islamist rule over the whole of Somalia.

It must be recognized by Western leaders – most notably the United States – that the coveted ‘negotiation process’ is what permitted the ICU to harvest Somali territory for al-Qaeda in the first place. Negotiation must take place after the Islamists will has been broken in Somalia by force alone, not beforehand. For force is the language they speak with and the only language they have an ear for.

Feedback

By definition, Somalia is a "failed state" and a country in which poverty and sickness pervades. On its own, that would make Somalia a target for al Qaeda, or the emergence of an al Qaeda proxy like the ICU.

If the "incursion" by Ethiopia can move the ICU out of power in Mogadishu, then there may be some hope. That is, if there were no way that the Islamist movement would simply "relocate." Once the ICU established a position in Mogadishu, however, the region, the Horn of Africa, was put at risk.

Stratfor's article, "Open Warfare in Somalia" (I don't have a working link) made the observation that Somalia had the potential of replacing Iraq as a magnet for foreign fighters, and bring on a lengthy guerilla war. It appears that the Ethiopian offensive is in part intended to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Somalia. One key question, still to be answered, is whether the siege warfare approach will unseat the ICU, or simply move them to other areas of the country.

In reading about the recent developments in Somalia, I came across an article published in 2004 in the Washington Quarterly titled "Africa’s New Strategic Significance." Among the many observations in this article is:

"...Long recognized by the international community as the single most-impoverished continent and for its weak governmental institutions, Africa’s clear potential to become a breeding ground for new terrorist threats thus landed it a new place on the U.S. foreign policy agenda. Air Force Gen. Jeffrey Kohler, the director of plans and policy at the U.S. European Command, which has responsibility for Africa, added, “What we don’t want to see in Africa is another Afghanistan, a cancer growing in the middle of nowhere...”

Clearly, negotiation with the ICU cannot lead to any concrete settlement. The ICU as proxy for al Qaeda seeks to spread its Islamist goals. The answers are not simple, and nor are the resolutions clear in my opinion.

Two other points that merit watching are the potential for an uptick in the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the recently announced and hotly debated creation of the Africa Command by the U.S. Army.

Another thing to consider regarding Somalia's long standing as a failed state is that, while the TFG is preferred greatly over an al-Qaeda franchise like the ICU, niether the TFG nor any other semblance of governance been able to address the ills that afflict the country and its people.

Perhaps if the ICU can be decapitated and marginalized, the taste of the looming alternative the ICU's drive provided will have motivated enough indiginous and international support for a proper Somali government to take form and begin a path to a more healthy, prosperous, free and peaceful Somalia.