No matter which way you look at it, it’s just about impossible to find any good news in what happened in Somalia this week, after Islamic forces took the capital, Mogadishu. Maybe I should say the historical capital since Somalia hasn’t had a functioning central government in 15 years, but I digress…
In either case, it’s hard to be optimistic, at least in the short-term. Sure, maybe the triumphant Islamic Courts Union doesn’t have ties to al Qaeda. O.K., that’s good, but what does that mean? We get the Somali-version of the Taliban instead? Great, just great.
The way it looks now, it’s al Qaeda (e.g., Al Ittihad al Islami), the Taliban (e.g., Islamic Courts Union) and a bunch of ruthless warlords–all in one poor, lawless state that might, just might, become the next Afghanistan.
Heck, if I were Osama, I’d pull up tent stakes right now and head for safe haven in the Horn of Africa. It’s better than living on the Pakistani frontier, or taking on American GIs in Iraq or Afghanistan.
And that’s exactly the point: Somalia might just become the location of the next Taliban-al Qaeda partnership. Something–that even while we figure out what to do next–we know is unacceptable.
— Peter Brookes is senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He is author of A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States.
Although few realized it at the time, the U.S. retreat from Somalia in 1994 was a seminal event in the evolution of al Qaeda. It proved to them that the “paper tiger,” America, could be beaten. This is not mere conjecture; al Qaeda’s own internal discourses trumpet this point. For example, U.S. forces in Afghanistan seized a collection of al Qaeda’s letters written to members of its “African corps” shortly after President Clinton ordered the withdrawal of American forces. The U.S. retreat from Somalia was seen as a “Muslim victory,” which had “profound implications ideologically, politically, and psychologically that will require lengthy studies.” It proved “the spurious nature of American power and that it has not recovered from the Vietnam complex.” Furthermore, Americans feared “getting bogged down in a real war that would reveal its psychological collapse at the level of personnel and leadership.”
While America’s and the world’s leaders did little to combat the rising tide of Islamic extremism in Somalia from 1994 hence, the extremists themselves have patiently plotted a rise to power. Taking advantage of the decade of chaos that followed the U.S. retreat, as well as the U.N.’s retreat in 1995, the Islamic courts now promise the Somali people “peace” and “stability” under the banner of an extreme Taliban-like form of Islam.
The groups’ leader, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, has even launched a public-relations offensive, claiming his desire to represent the Somali people and disavowing any ties to al Qaeda. But make no mistake about it: the Islamic courts’ victory in Mogadishu is a win for al Qaeda. The Islamic courts have provided aid and shelter to al Qaeda for years. There are reports that several of the perpetrators of the 1998 embassy bombings are currently protected in Mogadishu. The cell that harbors those terrorists is even thought to have executed an attack against an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya in 2002, while simultaneously failing to shoot down an Israeli airliner.
Al Qaeda and its allies claimed “victory” in Somalia in 1994. There was no robust American response. Al Qaeda’s allies are once again claiming victory in Mogadishu today. What is America going to do about it?
–Thomas Joscelyn is an economist who works on antitrust and security issues.
The effects of the Islamic Court Union’s takeover in Mogadishu are still murky. The Union maintains that it will struggle for an Islamic state, while strenuously denying support for al Qaeda or any similar organization. However, its victory comes against a backdrop of the growth of radical Islam throughout Africa.
Just across the border, in northeastern Kenya, Islamists are pushing to expand radical versions of Islamic law, and the Chairman of Kenya’s Council of Imams and Preachers, Ali Shee, has threatened that Muslims in the coastal and northeastern provinces will break away if their demands are not met.
American intelligence also believes that Kenya’s isolated coastal islands have become a haven for terrorists. Harun Fazul, a ringleader in the 1998 embassy bombing, and one of al Qaeda’s most wanted men (the U.S. has a $5 million price on him) is believed to be hiding in the area.
Further to the south, in Tanzania, Islamists have bombed bars and beaten women they thought inadequately covered. Time magazine quoted one activist, Mohammed Madi, “We get our funds from Yemen and Saudi Arabia … Officially the money is used to buy medicine, but in reality the money is given to us to support our work and buy guns.”
Across the continent, in 2004 in Nigeria, a group calling itself the “Taliban” stormed government buildings, raised the old Afghan flag, stole large quantities of weapons, occupied a dozen villages, and threatened to kill all non-Muslims in a holy war against Christians and the federal government. The uprising was only put down when hundreds of troops were rushed to the area. One “Taliban,” Alhaji Sharu, told police that he was a middleman between Nigerian extremists and the Al-Muntada Al-Islami Trust, a Saudi funded “charity” headquartered in Britain.
Meanwhile, Gambia, Niger, Mauritania, Chad, and even historically democratic Muslim countries such as Mali and Senegal are experiencing Islamist unrest, with riots and, in some cases, coup attempts.
Radical Islam has its sights focused on Africa as much as on the Middle East.
— Paul Marshall is senior fellow at Freedom House‘s Center for Religious Freedom and editor of the just released Radical Islam’s Rules: the Worldwide Spread of Extreme Sharia Law.
Clifford D. May
So now, 13 years after American forces were withdrawn under fire from Mogadishu, a Taliban-like government has been established in Somalia.
Here’s what too many of us find difficult to grasp: Wars you don’t win, you lose. If you don’t achieve victory, you suffer defeat. There are no other “exit strategies.” And when you are defeated, you will be perceived as weak. And weakness invites aggression.
In World War II, the United States refused to accept anything less than unconditional surrender from our enemies. Today, Japan and Germany are American allies.
The next war was in Korea. We accepted what we thought was a draw. The consequence: half a century later we are still menaced by North Korea, more so than ever.
The war in Vietnam we lost. And that gave encouragement to Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini a quarter century ago. He tested us, and found us wanting. Khomeini’s heirs continue to test us and soon may do so with a combination of terrorism and nuclear devices.
A militant Islamist government in Somalia, giving refuge to terrorists, should be seen as unacceptable. Already, there are reports that three al Qaeda leaders indicted in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania are being sheltered by Mogadishu’s new rulers.
Both those terrorists and those who harbor them are our enemies. We will either defeat them or they will defeat us. There is no other option.
— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.
Andrew C. McCarthy
The victory of Islamic militants in Somalia over the warlords (who reportedly had U.S. backing) is about as thorough a disaster as one can imagine short of an al Qaeda attack on the homeland.
At a very basic level, the triumph signals an opening for al Qaeda to set up a reasonably stable shop. The terror network, we know from experience, was far more effective at projecting power when it had a central headquarters. All of the major attacks against the U.S. occurred when al Qaeda had a real headquarters (Sudan and later Afghanistan). Ever since the Taliban was routed after 9/11 and Qaeda’s leadership was chased out of Afghanistan, bin Laden and company have had to scramble–it’s not easy to plot big operations when you have to keep moving just to survive. Do we have the stomach and the resources for a military incursion if that is necessary to stop al Qaeda from establishing a new headquarters? I hope so, but I don’t know.
In terms of giving a real shot in the arm to our enemies, this is a cataclysm. We are now in year five of the war on terror, which we (finally) engaged after 9/11 with the stated purpose of eradicating an organization and ideology that we said we understood could not be reasoned with. To have what is potentially a new terror state arise notwithstanding all that strongly suggests to our enemies that if they hang in long enough, we don’t have the resolve to defeat them, which is what bin Laden has been telling them all along–thus boosting his credibility (and remember: anything that boosts his credibility increases al Qaeda’s ability to recruit and train new operatives).
Finally, the galvanizing role of Sharia courts should not be lost here. This was a revolt centered around Islamic law. Sharia authorities were able to whip up jihadists who have now ousted the warlords (warlords–as the jihadists will tell the tale–who were backed by America). In the new constitutions the State Department helped write in Afghanistan and Iraq, Islam was established as the state religion and provision was made for the influence of Sharia law. Sharia is part of the jihadist problem, and it is mind-boggling, after all this time and burying all our dead, that we could possibly ever see it as part of the “democratic” solution.
— Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Somalia is not really a country at all, just a space inhabited by many people all too familiar with the poverty line. To understand the country requires close knowledge of the clans and sub-clans, their allegiances and enmities, all liable to sudden switches for reasons invisible to the outsider. Now on top thanks to their guns, the so-called Islamic Courts Union is comparable to the Taliban as they once took power in Afghanistan. Their first steps include a demand for the imposition of sharia, and the mounting of anti-American demonstrations. This is certainly a setback, with the potential of turning ugly. Intervention in conditions of anarchy is unpromising, but the United States and its allies should do everything within their power to support clans and their warlords opposed to the Islamists. It should be possible to arm them on the one hand, and on the other to buy off the Islamists, as was done successfully in Afghanistan. A base affiliated to al Qaeda would ratchet up a lot of future trouble.
–David Pryce-Jones is a National Review senior editor.
The takeover of Mogadishu by members of the Islamic Courts Union should be a huge story. I was planning a trip to Mogadishu in July and so had been in a lot of contact with people there over the last couple months. While some news reports try to put a positive spin on the situation–saying, for example, that the Islamist militia might restore order, this is shortsighted and eerily parallels the spin which journalists put on the 1996 Taliban takeover of Kabul. From mosques and loud speaker-mounted pick-up trucks, the Islamic Courts Union has told young Somalis that Islamists defeated one superpower in Afghanistan, and Islamists defeated another superpower in Iraq (thank you, Rep. Murtha, for providing such wonderful sound bites on Al-Jazeera; I have had Iraq insurgents quote you to me as well) and that Islamism is the wave of the future. The U.S. can only win this war against Islamic extremism and terror if Washington shows resolve. Unfortunately, in recent weeks, the Bush administration has shown it is no longer in the fight.
— Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is editor of Middle East Quarterly. Rubin previously worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.