The United States has made considerable progress in
its war against international terrorism, but it still faces
contingencies that could complicate its goal of eradicating the
scourge of global terrorism. The United States has uprooted Osama
bin Laden's al-Qaeda ("the Base") terrorist group--and the radical
Islamic Taliban regime that protected it--from Afghanistan.
Although al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants seek to regroup and
challenge the authority of the U.S.-backed Afghan government of
Hamid Karzai, bin Laden has lost his foremost safe haven and state
despite his military setback in Afghanistan and the arrest of over
1,300 al-Qaeda suspects in over 70 countries, bin Laden's terrorist
network remains "the most immediate and serious threat" to American
security, according to Central Intelligence Agency Director George
Tenet. Largely expelled from
Afghanistan, al-Qaeda may seek to regroup in another country where
it could count on some degree of local support.
Somalia is such a place. It is a failed
state whose lawless anarchy would permit terrorists to operate
relatively freely. The al-Qaeda network has operated there in the
past and has longstanding ties to a small minority of Somali
Islamists, with which it has worked since the early 1990s.
Somalia also has a long seacoast with
numerous unpatrolled ports that could provide easy entry for
al-Qaeda terrorists fleeing from Afghanistan via Pakistan or Iran
by sea. The U.S. Navy intercepted at least one ship that reportedly
transported fugitive al-Qaeda operatives who escaped from a
Pakistani port inside a shipping container. U.S.
intelligence officials believe that bin Laden owns a number of
ships, one of which is suspected of transporting some of the
explosives used in the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies
in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Shortly
after September 11, U.S. intelligence officials received reports
that bin Laden himself planned to move from Afghanistan to Somalia
or had already done so.
prevent al-Qaeda elements fleeing Afghanistan from relocating in
Somalia, the United States has assembled a multinational naval
flotilla off Somalia's coast and in the Arabian Sea to intercept
fugitive terrorists. Washington also has stepped up aerial
reconnaissance missions and intelligence-gathering activities
inside Somalia to scout possible al-Qaeda strongholds. General
Tommy Franks, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, which
is responsible for conducting the war against terrorism in the
Middle East, Southwest Asia, and the Horn of Africa, has warned
that he has evidence that al-Qaeda terrorist cells are present in
Somalia--a "serious concern."
There has been considerable speculation
that Somalia may become the next front in the global war against
international terrorism. If and when it were to intervene in
Somalia, the United States would discover that Somalia's anarchy,
which makes the country a fertile ground for Islamic extremists,
also makes it an extremely unpredictable arena for military
operations. It may be easier in military and geostrategic terms to
conduct counterterrorist operations in Somalia than in Afghanistan,
but Somalia's tumultuous internal politics make any sustained
military operation a risky proposition, as the Clinton
Administration discovered in 1993 when it expanded a humanitarian
aid mission into a failed nation-building experiment.
prevent al-Qaeda from moving its base of operations to Somalia, the
United States should place a top priority on intercepting its
leaders in transit, before they can establish themselves there.
Washington also needs to bolster U.S. intelligence-gathering inside
Somalia to determine the extent of al-Qaeda's presence. The United
States then should calibrate its military and political commitment
in Somalia to match the threat posed by al-Qaeda forces. It should
cooperate with Somalia's neighbors and cultivate Somali allies to
combat al-Qaeda. If necessary, Washington should use covert
operations, commando raids, and precision-guided air strikes to
attack terrorist cells.
the struggle against al-Qaeda is more an intelligence problem than
a strictly military problem. The United States should seek to
minimize its military presence inside Somalia and operate from
ships off the coast and bases elsewhere to avoid giving bin Laden
new targets to attack or giving Somalis new incentives to join his
war against the United States.
Why Somalia is a Likely Refuge for
Somalia, a country slightly smaller than
the state of Texas, long has been one of the world's poorest and
least developed countries. Its 7.5 million people have suffered
through a long drought that has depleted their livestock herds and
slashed agricultural production, the mainstays of the economy.
of their misery, however, has been man-made. General Mohammed Siad
Barre, who seized power in a 1969 military coup, aligned Somalia
with the Soviet bloc and adopted socialist policies that crippled
economic growth. His aggressive foreign policy, backed by
Soviet-supplied arms, led Somalia to invade Ethiopia in 1977 to
seize the disputed Ogaden region, inhabited predominantly by ethnic
Somalis. After Somalia was defeated by Ethiopia in a bloody and
costly war, Barre's regime became increasingly harsh, repressive,
and corrupt. In the late 1980s, various clan-based militias sprang
up in opposition to the discredited ruling regime, and when General
Barre was overthrown in 1991 by two rebel movements, Somalia was
plunged into chaos.
failure of the Somali government contributed to the fracturing of
the Somali nation. Rival clan leaders mobilized armed followers to
carve out competing fiefdoms. More than a dozen factions jousted
for dominance in a Hobbesian free-for-all. Northern clans gained
autonomy and relative political stability in the breakaway
territories of Somaliland in the northwest and Puntland in the
northeast, but southern Somalia descended into a brutal civil war
as warlords struggled for power and territory, particularly in the
war-torn capital of Mogadishu. There, the warlord most responsible
for ousting the Barre regime, General Mohammed Farah Aideed, gained
a precarious dominance over rival warlords Muse Sude Yalahow and
Ali Mahdi Mohammed.
1992, chronic factional fighting had exacerbated the growing
humanitarian crisis. Farmers hampered by intermittent drought,
economic chaos, and political violence increasingly were unable to
plant and harvest food crops. An estimated 300,000 Somalis died of
starvation during the early 1990s. The
United Nations Security Council launched an emergency food relief
operation in August 1992 but was unable to assure the distribution
of food supplies because of the deteriorating security situation,
particularly in the south. Somali warlords ruthlessly plundered
relief supplies to feed and subsidize their own militias.
Intervention and the Failure of Nation-Building.
To rescue the floundering U.N. food relief operation, President
George H. Bush ordered the Pentagon on December 9, 1992, to
undertake Operation Restore Hope. This humanitarian mission, which
eventually involved 25,000 U.S. servicemen, provided security and
logistical support for the U.N. effort.
Operation Restore Hope succeeded in
alleviating famine conditions, but the incoming Clinton
Administration, infused with the spirit of "assertive
multilateralism," expanded the short-term humanitarian aid mission
into a long-term nation-building operation under the auspices of
the United Nations. This well-intentioned but naïve conception
of foreign policy as social work triggered tragic unintended
consequences in Somalia.
Somalia's fractious warlords increasingly
bridled at what they saw as foreign interference. General Aideed
initially had welcomed the United Nations intervention, which he
sought to exploit to strengthen his domination over southern
Somalia, but grew hostile after U.N. peacekeeping troops sought to
disarm his militia and increasingly were perceived as favoring his
arch-rival, Ali Mahdi Mohammed.
Aideed launched a guerrilla war to drive
out U.N. peacekeeping forces, and his gunmen killed 25 Pakistani
peacekeepers in an ambush in June 1993. The Clinton Administration
dispatched U.S. special forces to arrest General Aideed in
Mogadishu, but the mission backfired on October 3, 1993, when
Aideed's gunmen shot down two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters and
killed 18 Army rangers--the heaviest casualties U.S. forces had
suffered in a single battle since Vietnam--in a fierce firefight
that also claimed the lives of over 1,000 Somalis.
ill-fated operation, chronicled in the book (and now movie) Black
Hawk Down, became the tragic turning point in America's
intervention in Somalia. After stunned Americans watched television
coverage of Somalis dragging the body of a dead American soldier
through the streets of Mogadishu, the Clinton Administration
quickly reversed course. Unable to justify to appalled Americans
the sacrifice of U.S. troops originally dispatched to feed starving
Somalis, it abandoned its overly ambitious nation-building
experiment in Somalia. Washington withdrew the U.S. forces from
Somalia by the end of March 1994, and the U.N. peacekeeping mission
was terminated in 1995 after failing to restore law and order.
Consequences: The Rise of Al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda is a transnational umbrella group that has evolved from a
loose association of Islamic militants who had flocked to
Afghanistan during the 1980s to join the jihad (holy war) against
the Soviet occupation. Following the Soviet
withdrawal in 1989, many of these estimated 25,000 "Arab Afghans"
returned home, where they fostered radical Islamic movements in
many Muslim countries, including Somalia. According to U.S.
intelligence reports, bin Laden sent Islamic extremists to Somalia
in 1991-1992 to help the Somali Islamic radical group al-Ittihad
al-Islamiya (Islamic Unity, or AIAI) to organize an armed militia,
establish schools and clinics, and prepare to seize power.
of the most grievous unintended consequences of the U.S.
intervention in Somalia was that U.S. peacekeeping forces became a
lightning rod for terrorist attacks from bin Laden's terrorists and
their Somali allies. Al-Qaeda's first known terrorist attack
against Americans was the December 1992 bombing of a hotel in Aden,
Yemen, used by American soldiers en route to Somalia to participate
in the relief operations.
Laden, who lived in nearby Sudan from 1991-1996 under the
protection of the radical Islamic regime in Khartoum, regarded the
American humanitarian intervention in Somalia as a colonial
occupation and a threat to Islam. This mirrored his hostile view of
the deployment of U.S. troops to defend Saudi Arabia in 1990 after
the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. He deemed the U.S. intervention to be
an intolerable occupation of his Saudi homeland and a crusade
1993, bin Laden issued a fatwa (religious edict) calling for
Somalis to attack U.S. forces and drive them out of the country. He dispatched several
lieutenants, including Mohammed Atef, who is believed to have
helped plan the September 11 attacks, to help train Somalis in
military and terrorist tactics.
According to U.S. officials, bin Laden
spent $3 million to recruit and airlift elite veterans of the
Afghan jihad to Somalia via third countries, such as Yemen and
Ethiopia. Several hundred foreign
veterans of the Afghan jihad, expelled from Pakistan in 1993, also
joined the Somali jihad after passing through Sudan. Tariq Nasr Fadhli, a radical
Islamic leader from Yemen who fought under bin Laden against the
Soviets in Afghanistan, helped bring Yemeni mercenaries to fight in
Laden later claimed responsibility for the deaths of the 18 U.S.
soldiers in Mogadishu. In a 1997 interview with CNN,
he gloated that al-Qaeda had trained and organized the Somali
fighters who did the actual fighting.
Al-Qaeda members are suspected of teaching General Aideed's militia
how to shoot down U.S. helicopters by altering the fuses of
rocket-propelled grenades so that they exploded in mid-air. This tactic, developed by the
Afghan mujahideen (holy warriors) in their war against the Soviets,
was the same one al-Qaeda forces used to bring down two U.S.
helicopters near Gardez, Afghanistan, during Operation Anaconda in
early March 2002.
U.S. in 1993 Stokes Bin Laden's Ambitions.
The ignominious collapse of the U.S. peacekeeping mission
in Somalia after October 1993 undoubtedly led bin Laden to conclude
that "you go kill a few Americans and they go away," as one expert
described it. This also reinforced his
contempt for American staying power and fueled his ambitions to use
terrorism to drive American influence out of the Muslim world: If
the deaths of 18 soldiers could cause the withdrawal of 25,000 U.S.
troops from Somalia, bin Laden had reason to believe that killing
more Americans could lead to a similar pullout from Saudi
Al-Qaeda terrorists are suspected of
involvement in a series of increasingly ambitious terrorist
bombings that killed five U.S. military advisers in Riyadh, Saudi
Arabia, in 1995; 19 U.S. military personnel at the Khobar Towers
housing complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996; and 224 people, including
12 Americans, in the simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, in 1998. The embassy
bombings took place on August 7, the anniversary of the first
deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia in response to the August
2, 1990, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. According to U.S. intelligence,
al-Qaeda used Somalia as a regional base of operations, including
preparations for the 1998 embassy bombings. Some of
the members of the same Kenya-based al-Qaeda cell that helped train
Somalis to kill U.S. soldiers in 1993 went on to carry out the
bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi.
Laden's victory in Somalia also helped radicalize Somali Islamists.
Although Somalia's AIAI was formed in the late 1980s as a
fundamentalist Islamic social-political movement, it evolved into a
revolutionary Islamic force with (1) the return of a sprinkling of
Somali veterans of the Afghan jihad, (2) bin Laden's radical
influence, and (3) Sudanese support. It sought to build an Islamic
state that would be governed by Sharia (Islamic law).
After the collapse of the Barre regime in
1991, AIAI vainly sought to seize control of the northern port of
Bosaso and the southern cities of Merka and Kismayo but was
repulsed by local Somali clans. Following the failure of the U.N.
intervention, AIAI had greater success in consolidating control
over the Gedo region near the Kenyan border. It built up a
stronghold in the town of Luuq and cultivated support of ethnic
Somalis living across the border in Ethiopia and Kenya,
particularly in the Ogaden region and the teeming slums of Nairobi.
The Ogaden clan, straddling the borders of eastern Ethiopia,
northern Kenya, and southern Somalia, provided fertile ground for
Islamic militants, in part because it experienced constant friction
with Christian or secular regimes in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Operating from its stronghold in the Gedo
region from 1991-1997, AIAI sought to "liberate" the Ogaden region
with Sudanese support and to recast Somali irredentism in the form
of a radical Islamic revolution against the predominantly Christian
Ethiopian government. At its peak, it could mobilize more than
3,000 fighters and staged terrorist attacks inside Ethiopia and
Kenya, but its strength has declined
significantly as a result of three Ethiopian military interventions
in the last six years, provoked by AIAI terrorist attacks.
1996, Ethiopian troops invaded Luuq, killed hundreds of AIAI
militants, and found ready allies in clan militias that rejected
the radical ideology of the AIAI. Many Somalis in Luuq turned
against the AIAI because they resented the imposition of strict
Sharia, the outlawing of qaat (a mild narcotic widely consumed by
Somalis), and the swaggering presence of AIAI gunmen from outside
Following their defeat in Luuq, AIAI
leaders concluded that Somalia was not yet ready for Islamic rule.
They retreated from the highly militarized Afghan-style paradigm of
Islamic revolution and focused instead on a more patient
incremental strategy that involved the long-term infiltration of
regional institutions, promotion of fundamentalist Islamic
education institutions, and decentralized work within clans to
avoid unnecessary clashes with traditional clan leaders.
the aftermath of September 11, Somalia, which fell off the radar
screen of U.S. foreign policy after the 1994 withdrawal of U.S.
peacekeeping forces, has become an important front in the global
struggle to eliminate Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. This
effort requires a grueling shadow war on many diverse fronts, most
of which will be non-military in nature. While the military front
in Afghanistan was crucial because it deprived bin Laden of his
primary sanctuary and state sponsor, over time al-Qaeda's
leadership will adjust and regroup elsewhere where it can operate
Al-Qaeda's center of gravity, which must
be destroyed if it is to be defeated, is not its physical
infrastructure in Afghanistan or elsewhere, but its leadership
structure. Capturing or killing these leaders is more an
intelligence problem than a purely military one. Bin Laden and his
top lieutenants operate as an umbrella group to recruit, train,
finance, and logistically support a diverse network of Islamic
extremists. While the foot soldiers are relatively easy to replace,
the leadership, drawn from a tight circle of "Afghan Arabs," will
be much harder to reconstitute because personal trust based on
shared experience is so vital to its operations. Now that they have
been forced out of their Afghan caves and shorn of most of their
Taliban allies, they are increasingly vulnerable to betrayal. The
more bodyguards they retain for personal security, the more risk
they take of detection or treachery. Communications and movement
undoubtedly have become more difficult.
Although bin Laden retains popular support in some pockets of
Afghanistan and in Pakistan's frontier tribal areas, the proximity
of American military power makes an indefinite stay there a risky
proposition after the fall of the Taliban. Moreover, as long as
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who turned against the
Taliban, is in power, bin Laden cannot rest easy in that region or
in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
Although at least one high-ranking al-Qaeda leader has
taken refuge in Iran, travelling across Afghanistan
to get there would be risky, even if bin Laden trusted Iran's
divided government to protect him. Al-Qaeda also has ties to
Iraq, but that country is more
distant and more difficult to enter without being detected by the
United States. Sudan, which still harbors some al-Qaeda members, is
a possible sanctuary; but Khartoum already has shown bin Laden the
door in 1996--and has placed his former mentor, radical Sudanese
Islamic ideologue Hassan Turabi, under house arrest.
Yemen is another possible destination. Bin Laden's father was born
in the mountainous Hadramawt region in the north before migrating
to Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda is known to have sympathizers in
quasi-autonomous tribal areas and successfully carried out the
October 12, 2000, terrorist attack on the USS Cole in the port of
Aden, killing 17 Americans. But moving to Yemen would mean moving
close to U.S. air and naval bases in neighboring Oman. Moreover,
the Yemeni government has cracked down on Islamic radicals,
deployed troops to chase Al-Qaeda fugitives, and reportedly
improved its anti-terrorism cooperation with the United States
since September 11.
Somalia, which has had no functioning central government for more
than a decade, has no effective police force, intelligence
agencies, internal security forces, army, navy, or coast guard. Its
1,900-mile coast, the longest in Africa, is a smuggler's paradise.
If they chose to leave the Afghan-Pakistani border area, bin Laden
and his lieutenants could easily hide in a container transported by
truck to a bustling port, then move by container ship to a
rendezvous with a small boat in the Indian Ocean or Gulf of Aden.
Al-Qaeda long has moved personnel and supplies in and out of
Somalia by boat, particularly along the southern coast, where it
has established a base of operations on Ras Komboni Island, near
Somalia's southern border with Kenya.
Al-Qaeda has worked successfully with AIAI
in the past, as well as with clan militias such as General Aideed's
forces in Mogadishu. Bin Laden could use his great wealth to
acquire more allies, as he did in Afghanistan, where he subsidized
the Taliban's army. A little money goes a long way in Somalia,
where jobs are scarce and militia members get paid as little as $4
per day. All of these factors make Somalia a likely destination if
and when the top al-Qaeda leadership decides to move to a new base
Implications for U.S. Counterterrorism
prepare itself more effectively for the likelihood that bin Laden
and his lieutenants will move their operations to Somalia, the
United States should:
- Place a top
priority on intercepting al-Qaeda's top leaders before they can
establish a base of operations in Somalia. Al-Qaeda's
chief assets are its principal leaders, who inspire, mobilize,
train, equip, finance, and coordinate the disparate activities of a
network of terrorist cells and affiliated groups in over 60
countries. Although bin Laden is the front man, he is more
important as a symbol and financier than as the operational
commander. One of his code names was "the contractor," which
suggests how he sees his own role.
The chief organizer is believed to be
Egyptian militant Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Egypt's Al Jihad
terrorist group, which was responsible for the 1981 assassination
of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Egyptian militants, who acquired
considerable terrorist experience in their long struggle with the
secular regime in Cairo, provide much of the operational leadership
for that terrorist group today.
Capturing or killing the top leaders would
not end the threat posed by al-Qaeda's network of quasi-independent
cells, but it would diminish the scale of the threat, hinder their
ability to coordinate operations, restrict their financing, and set
back the recruitment, training, and deployment of new terrorist
operatives. Bin Laden's demise could demoralize his followers,
depriving the organization of its charismatic recruiter, fund
raiser, and financial backer. Without its top leaders, the network
could fracture into independent franchises that would each pose
less of a threat to the United States and its allies than bin
Laden's collective group.
Al-Qaeda's leadership is most vulnerable
when it is on the run, not hidden and hunkered down in remote
strongholds protected by supportive local populations. If the
al-Qaeda leaders are successfully transplanted to Somalia, it
probably will be much more costly and dangerous to track them down,
capture, or kill them.
The U.S. Navy, augmented by British,
German, French, and Dutch naval forces, already is patrolling the
Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden to intercept and inspect naval vessels
before they can reach Somalia. Since September 11, the Pentagon has
stepped up aerial reconnaissance flights and satellite surveillance
of the Horn of Africa and surrounding seas. This naval screen and
surveillance should be continued indefinitely to deter and detect
The United States also should provide
technical assistance to Somalia's neighbors to help them monitor
their borders and coasts more closely. Some of the most radical
AIAI groups, which would be among the most willing to help bin
Laden, operate in Ethiopia's Ogaden region and in northern
- Bolster U.S.
intelligence-gathering inside Somalia. Somalia has been
described as Africa's "proverbial black hole." Since
the onset of its chronic civil war and the withdrawal of the U.N.
presence, few Westerners and fewer Americans have had the
opportunity to follow the tortuous twists and turns of Somalia's
factional bloodletting. Little is known about the strength of the
AIAI, which has dispersed and melted into its constituent clans
since its military defeat by Ethiopia in 1997. Even less is known
about the strength and disposition of al-Qaeda forces or the
precise nature of their links to AIAI or other Somali groups.
While the United States has mobilized its
technological intelligence-gathering capabilities, such as
satellite surveillance and aerial reconnaissance assets, human
intelligence is crucial to the success of counterterrorist
operations. The lack of good human intelligence was an important
factor in the failure of repeated U.S. efforts to capture General
Aideed in 1993: Despite the fact that he was living close to U.S.
forces inside Mogadishu, and despite 25,000 U.S. troops on the
ground and a network of Somali informants, Aideed eluded
Today, the level of U.S. human
intelligence on the ground is much lower, especially in southern
Somalia where the threat of terrorism and support for Islamic
extremism is greatest. Army special forces units
assigned to the Central Command have practiced training missions
against mock-ups of terrorist compounds, but according to a senior
official, "There is not enough intelligence on Somalia right now on
which to base an attack."
To remedy this situation and avoid another
failed military operation, the Central Intelligence Agency needs to
recruit and deploy, as soon as possible, a network of Somali
agents, drawn from every clan and faction, to gain a better
understanding of Somalia's kaleidoscopic clan-based politics,
al-Qaeda's presence there, and the strength of the AIAI and other
groups that might aid it. The United States should also consult the
intelligence agencies of Britain, Egypt, France, Italy, Israel, and
Saudi Arabia, which may have access to better intelligence.
Officials of the CIA, the State Department, and the Pentagon also
should consult with their counterparts in Ethiopia, Kenya, and
Djibouti to get up to speed on Somalia.
- Keep the focus
on fighting al-Qaeda and avoid mission creep. Washington
must remain tightly focused on battling al-Qaeda, whose far-flung
network already has required U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, the
Philippines, and Georgia. U.S. military forces, already spread
thin, must prepare for the contingency that al-Qaeda forces seek
sanctuary in Iraq or are not expelled from Iran in a timely manner.
The United States cannot afford to commit substantial military
forces to action in Somalia unless there is solid evidence that
al-Qaeda has moved its leadership or major portions of its
Faced with the prospect of a looming
confrontation with Iraq over weapons of mass destruction--the
ultimate terrorist weapon--the Defense Department cannot risk
getting bogged down in operations against AIAI absent a growing
al-Qaeda threat in Somalia. The United States should try to contain
and defeat AIAI by giving diplomatic, economic, and intelligence
support to Somali factions that oppose it and to Ethiopia and
Kenya, which it also threatens. But the United States should
reserve the use of military force for cases in which vital national
interests are at stake. Those interests are not at stake in Somalia
unless al-Qaeda greatly increases its lethal activities there.
Washington cannot repeat the mistake of
getting involved in nation-building in Somalia, this time under the
guise of fighting terrorism. America's experience in Lebanon,
Somalia, and the Balkans demonstrates that nation-building efforts
often draw U.S. forces into internal power struggles that actually
create incentives and targets for terrorism. U.S.
soldiers should be employed to capture or kill terrorists, not to
function as social workers.
- Cooperate with
Ethiopia and Kenya to curb Islamic radicalism in Somalia.
Neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya have strong reasons to cooperate in
containing and defeating Islamic radicalism in Somalia. Both have
large ethnic Somali minorities and share long, porous borders with
Somalia. Both have suffered from terrorist attacks launched by
Islamic radicals supported by backers in Somalia. Both want to live
next to a stable Somalia that does not export terrorism or starving
refugees. And both will become frontline states if al-Qaeda turns
Somalia into another Afghanistan.
Ethiopia, which has fought three wars with
Somalia, is well-positioned to assist American efforts to combat
al-Qaeda or its local Somali allies. Addis Ababa has taken firm
action to roll back AIAI influence on its borders. It expelled the
AIAI from its stronghold in Luuq in 1997 and cobbled together a
coalition of Somali factions to form the Somali Reconciliation and
Restoration Council (SRRC), which keeps the AIAI from returning in
The SRRC also opposes the Transitional
National Government (TNG) in Somalia, which Ethiopia claims is a
Trojan horse for the AIAI. An interim coalition government formed
in October 2000 at a conference in Djibouti, the TNG has a mandate
to hold elections in three years to select a permanent government.
In practice, it is an impotent shell that does not even control all
of Mogadishu. Although it is recognized by the United Nations and
backed by the Arab League, only a handful of states recognize it as
Somalia's legitimate government. The TNG is not recognized by the
United States, nor should it be unless it purges AIAI members from
its ranks. In September 2001, AIAI was named by the Bush
Administration as one of the 27 entities supporting al-Qaeda.
Ethiopia could be an important U.S. ally,
with considerable influence inside Somalia exercised through its
proxies in the SRRC. It also exercises power directly by deploying
troops who repeatedly have crossed the border to drive away the
AIAI, which Ethiopia regards as its chief external threat. Addis
Ababa also could provide the U.S. military with access to Ethiopian
air bases to use as staging areas for possible commando raids or
air strikes. General Franks visited Ethiopia and Kenya in mid-March
2002 and asked both countries to dispatch military liaisons to the
Central Command's headquarters in Tampa, Florida, a sign of growing
There also is a downside to close U.S.
cooperation with Ethiopia. Ethiopia has its own agenda in Somalia,
which has more to do with maintaining control over the Ogaden and
assuring its hegemony over western Somalia than with defeating
al-Qaeda. It also has an interest in exaggerating the radical
Islamic threat emanating from Somalia to extract maximum foreign
aid from Washington. Washington therefore should carefully screen
information gleaned from Ethiopian sources for self-serving
Washington also should refrain from giving
Ethiopia control over any U.S. aid shipped over the border to
Somali factions. The Carter Administration ceded control of the
arms pipeline to the Afghan mujahideen to Pakistan in early 1980,
and the Pakistanis used that control to build up the influence of
radical anti-Western Islamic groups that it could exploit to
undermine India's control over the disputed Kashmir province. These
groups later coalesced into the Taliban and became Osama bin
In addition, Washington should undertake
intelligence-sharing and security cooperation with Ethiopia and
Kenya. If al-Qaeda's influence continues to grow, the United States
should provide intelligence, logistical support, and training for
Ethiopian and Kenyan special forces to enable them to raid al-Qaeda
and AIAI personnel inside their own borders and in Somalia.
- Cultivate Somali
allies to combat al-Qaeda. Because Somalia has no central
government, al-Qaeda will have no state protection if it moves
there in force. This will make it potentially vulnerable to the
sudden shifts of alliances that mark Somalia's tumultuous factional
At present, there is no obvious candidate
that can play a role similar to that of the Northern Alliance in
Afghanistan by cooperating with U.S. military forces to root out
al-Qaeda cells. Ethiopia is lobbying for U.S. support for their
allies in the SRRC, but that coalition of warlords contains several
militias that fought the United States in 1993, including one led
by General Aideed's son, Hussein Mohammed Aideed. Moreover, Somali
politics are so fluid and opportunistic that the makeup of the SRRC
is bound to shift over time. In fact, if al-Qaeda does build up in
Somalia, it could well spread around enough money to cause Aideed's
militia and several others to defect from their Ethiopian
The northern breakaway regions of
Somaliland and Puntland are relatively hostile to Islamic
radicalism, but both are far from the main hotbed of potential
support for bin Laden in southern Somalia. Puntland also has been
riven by a factional split that pits its Ethiopian-backed former
President Abdullahi Yusuf against his successor, an ally of the TNG
whom he accuses of being an Islamic militant. In late November
2002, Yusuf stormed into Puntland with some 1,000 Ethiopian troops.
While AIAI is suspected of infiltrating Puntland's judicial
branch, and the Puntland port of
Bosaso reportedly was used to send Somali volunteers to Afghanistan
to help bolster al-Qaeda, increasing numbers of
Puntlanders are said to resent Ethiopia's domination of their
Given the confusing nature of Somalia's
violent political culture, Washington should refrain from picking
sides among the factions and should instead keep its lines open to
all factions, with the exception of the AIAI, until it determines
whether a growing al-Qaeda presence makes it necessary to dive
again into the snake pit of Somali factional warfare. If U.S.
intelligence determines that al-Qaeda remains a shadowy presence
and Somali warlords are painting their opponents as Islamic
radicals in order to attract American or Ethiopian support, as some
suspect, Washington should keep all
the factions at arms length and avoid being drawn into their
political blood sport.
- Use covert CIA
operations, special operations commandos, and precision air strikes
as necessary to target al-Qaeda cells. For the U.S.
military, Somalia is a more convenient battlefield than Afghanistan
in geostrategic terms. It has a long seacoast that makes it more
accessible to carrier-based warplanes, marine landings, and special
forces operations. U.S. air power is more effective in finding and
hitting targets in Somalia's relatively flat desert terrain,
compared to the rugged mountains of Afghanistan. And the military
probably has better advanced knowledge of the terrain, based on its
deployment in 1992-1994, than it did going into Afghanistan last
Politically, however, Somalia is much more
difficult than Afghanistan. Many Afghans hated the Taliban and were
willing to join the fight against it once it became clear that the
U.S. air campaign was lethally effective. Somalis will feel
threatened, not liberated, by the presence of foreign troops. The
Northern Alliance in Afghanistan was a battle-hardened force that
had fiercely fought the Taliban for seven years without cracking.
But the SRRC and other Somali coalitions can dissolve overnight and
re-form in different configurations. Fortunately, this also will be
a problem for bin Laden if he chooses to flee to Somalia.
A war against al-Qaeda in Somalia is
likely to look much different from the war in Afghanistan. In
Somalia, Al-Qaeda would need to function in a dispersed and hidden
manner to avoid deadly air strikes with precision-guided munitions.
It would seek to blend in with native Somalis and use civilians as
shields. Conventional military operations, and even large special
forces operations as in Mogadishu in 1993, could result in heavy
Rather than take a sledgehammer approach,
which would radicalize Somalis and win bin Laden greater support,
the United States should attack isolated targets with small units
operating stealthily at night. Lightning "snatch and grab" commando
operations should be launched from bases outside of Somalia to
limit the presence of foreign troops on the ground. Wherever
possible, the United States should use Somali surrogates trained by
the CIA and minimize the involvement of Americans on the ground.
Moving large numbers of U.S. troops into Somalia would be a
lightning rod that would provoke attacks and give al-Qaeda more
targets without appreciably increasing the effectiveness of the
Detecting and neutralizing dispersed
al-Qaeda cells is more an intelligence problem than a military
problem. The CIA should take the lead, supported by Somali
paramilitary forces and U.S. special forces. The air war would be
much more specialized, involving precision-guided munitions almost
exclusively to limit civilian casualties and avoid provoking a
backlash from the clans of unintended victims. Most U.S. military
forces would be better deployed to deal with more pressing threats
from Iraq or elsewhere.
After being evicted from Afghanistan,
al-Qaeda may regroup in Somalia where it has longstanding links to
the radical group al-Ittihad al-Islamiya. Washington's first
priority should be to deny Osama bin Laden a base in Somalia by
intercepting al-Qaeda forces before they reach that failed state.
Meanwhile, the United States should increase its
intelligence-gathering activities in Somalia to assess the strength
of the threat al-Qaeda poses there.
Absent a growing al-Qaeda threat or the
move of its leaders to Somalia, the United States should avoid
making a sustained military commitment there, which would divert
scarce military forces from more urgent missions in Iraq or
Afghanistan. The scale of any U.S. military and political
commitment should be calibrated to match the threat posed by the
al-Qaeda presence in Somalia. If this presence is found to pose
little threat to American interests, U.S. military forces should
not be deployed there. Instead, the United States should cultivate
local Somali allies to root out al-Qaeda.
United States also should try to contain and defeat AIAI by giving
diplomatic, economic, and intelligence support to Somali factions
opposed to it, as well as to Ethiopia and Kenya, which are
threatened by it. But Washington cannot afford to bog down its
overburdened military forces in naïve nation-building efforts
that are inherently risky, expensive, and doubtful. It should have
learned from the collapse of the Clinton Administration's Somalia
intervention in 1993 that no good deed goes unpunished.
Nation-building exercises draw peacekeeping forces into the lethal
politics of failed states and create new incentives for terrorism
and new targets for terrorists to attack.
James Phillips is Research Fellow in
Middle Eastern Affairs in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies at The Heritage