Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tide Turning In Somalia?

An update now on the ongoing conflict in Somalia.  We have been following Kenya's mission against the militant al-Shabaab organization in southern Somalia – Kenya launched a large-scale military operation designed to capture al-Shabaab's base of operations after the terrorist group attempted to stage several kidnappings of foreign tourists in northern Kenya.  After the mission seemed to bog down, thanks in part to the arrival of the monsoon season and a strategic withdrawal by al-Shabaab, the Kenyans are reporting a number of successes.

According to a report in Bloomberg, the Kenyans claim to have killed as many as 60 al-Shabaab militants in an airstrike.  Other actions in the previous week killed another 25 al-Shabaab fighters, according to the Kenyans, who put their own losses at six soldiers killed and 22 wounded since their offensive, dubbed Operation Linda Nchi, began last year.  Along with the Kenyan military presence, or perhaps inspired by it, other nations in the region are increasing their cooperation in Somalia.  The intelligence agencies of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia are now coordinating their efforts in Somalia and also at preventing reprisal terror attacks in their respective countries from al-Shabaab, the working group claims to have thwarted several attacks planned around the New Year holiday season.  While al-Shabaab has largely operated within Somalia, they did stage a high-profile suicide bombing in Kampala, Uganda, at a World Cup viewing party in 2010 that killed as many as 70 people; this attack was to protest Uganda's support of the African Union peacekeeping (or Amisom) mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, where Uganda currently supplies the bulk of the troops.

The three nations, along with the Amisom mission and some of Somalia's other neighbors like Djibouti, are also increasing their military cooperation.  Ethiopia is also reported to have conducted military operations in the past few weeks within Somalia as well.  All of this is making my prediction here that Somalia could turn into Africa's next Great War seem like more of a possibility.  Some on the Kenyan side are predicting that based on their recent successes, al-Shabaab could be near collapse.  While this may or may not be true, it is worth remembering that the last time a strong Islamic movement was defeated in Somalia – the Islamic Courts Union (or ICU) – a period of chaos followed as outside forces withdrew feeling like they had “won”, while the remnants of the ICU fought amongst themselves with the more militant al-Shabaab eventually emerging as the victor.  The lesson here should be that if the Kenyans are right and al-Shabaab is defeated, that the victors need to stay engaged with Somalia providing security and allowing for the development of a legitimate government, rather than calling it a day, going home and letting something even worse than al-Shabaab emerge from the chaos.
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