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Within the past several weeks, the United States has conducted multiple air strikes on suspected al-Qaeda targets in Somalia. U.S. officials describe the attacks as part of continuing military operations against an international terrorist network in East Africa.
Two weeks ago, an AC-130 gunship targeted two suspected al-Qaeda agents, one the senior leader in East Africa and the other an operative wanted for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Driven out of Somalia’s capital and other areas of the country in December 2005, both were believed to have been hiding in the jungles of southern Somalia.
Andrew McGregor, director of Aberfoyle International Security, a Canada-based agency specializing in political and security issues in the Islamic world, stated, “It shows a growing commitment on the part of United States forces to become engaged militarily in Somalia at a time when they are quite busy on other fronts. It also demonstrates what seems to be a firm belief in the U.S. administration that there are important al-Qaeda elements at large in Somalia that would seem to pose some kind of immediate threat to the United States that would call for these extraordinary measures, and this kind of assessment, I’m afraid, is not shared by everyone” (VOA News).
Meanwhile, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh condemned the American air strikes. “These American strikes are counter-productive, I always condemn them because they achieve nothing and because innocent people lose their lives,” Mr. Guelleh said in an interview at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa. Djibouti hosts the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa. However, Mr. Guelleh insisted that “none of the Americans based with us were involved in this operation” (Middle East Online).
This was America’s first military action in Somalia since the completion of its unsuccessful peacekeeping mission in 1994, most remembered for the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident, which led U.S. President Bill Clinton to withdraw forces from the country. Ever since, Somalia has been a war-ravaged state and a safe haven for terrorists due to the lack of a stable government.
Ethiopia has been key in somewhat stabilizing Somalia, but it says its mission there is finished and it will begin a phased withdrawal of its troops in the coming days. It is reported that all its troops, estimated to be upwards of 10,000 strong, will be pulled out within several weeks.
The powerful Ethiopian army has helped the Somali government defeat Islamists who have repeatedly threatened to overthrow it.
A Somali Islamist group recently threatened to fight any peacekeeping troops sent to their country. Other Somali militants attacked Mogadishu’s presidential palace, but were held off.
Because of the potential power vacuum created by Ethiopian forces leaving Somalia, some are saying it is important for the U.S. to continue its military campaigns and to support the transitional government, including pouring millions of dollars into reconstructing the country. If the United States does not invest time and money in Somalia, they say, there is the likelihood that the country could slip back into a chaotic mess. This could easily lead to al-Qaeda establishing strongholds throughout the lawless state, a move the group is reportedly seeking to conduct.
Many fear an Iraqi-style insurgency, and worry that, without the U.S. contributing in some way—whether militarily, financially, or both—there is little hope for Somalia’s future.
But does America have the resources to handle another rebuilding project—possibly long-term—similar to Afghanistan or, bigger yet, Iraq? And would the American public support such an action?
Ultimately, peace will be achieved in Somalia—to learn how, read How World Peace Will Come!