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Defeating al-Qaeda in Somalia

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross considers some of the factors that will determine the answer to the question, Will the U.S. Win in Somalia?

One factor that will determine whether the ICU successfully launches an insurgency in the near future is the scope of the losses it suffers on the battlefield now. Military intelligence analysts feel that the ICU will bounce back unless a significant portion of its fighters are killed or captured. There appears to be an important opportunity at present: a large number of ICU fighters are massed in Ras Kamboni, a coastal town near the Kenyan border where they appear to have gone to regroup.

The ICU Islamists have dug in by the sea at the southern village of Ras Kamboni, the focus of the latest American, Somali and Ethiopian strikes. Somali Defense Minister Colonel Barre "Hirale" Aden Shire said last week, "They have dug huge trenches around Ras Kamboni but have only two options: to drown in the sea or to fight and die." Ras Kamboni has been known as "Fortress Baghdad" and, according to a military intelligence source, is believed to hold few or no civilians since the al-Qaeda-aligned ICU Islamists retreated there and drew initial fire.

As Gartenstein-Ross illustrates, the successful, functional survival of al-Qaeda in the Somali theater can be measured by the degree of success to which it can rapidly mount an insurgency. This capability will be determined in the very short-term by the level of success the American, Ethiopian and Somali forces are able to destroy in place al-Qaeda's remaining core, much of which is holed up in Ras Kamboni.

If there are indeed few or no civilians remaining, it may well be nearly a free-fire zone, truly leaving al-Qaeda the lonely choice to "drown in the sea or to fight and die" at Ras Kamboni.

The greater challenge will be preventing al-Qaeda from replenishing its stock of human resources over time in Somalia and the greater Horn of Africa.