Rapidly unfolding events in Somalia are grabbing more and more media attention. The country of Black Hawk Down now seems poised for a climactic battle in the capital city of Mogadishu between rival militias who have been fighting one another since February.
First, some background from the State Department website:
'Somalia, with an estimated population of 8.5 million, has been without a central government since 1991. The country is fragmented into three autonomous areas: the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in the south, the self—declared Republic of Somaliland in the northwest, and the State of Puntland in the northeast [see map here]. In August 2004 the 275—member clan—based Transitional Federal Assembly was selected and in October that year it elected Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed as Transitional Federal President. In December 2004 he appointed Ali Mohammed Ghedi as Prime Minister. Presidential elections in Somaliland, deemed credible and transparent, were held in April 2003...in January 2004, after years of internecine power struggles, Puntland's unelected parliament selected General Adde Musse as president. Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control of the security forces. Security conditions were relatively stable in many parts of the country, but during the year (2005), serious inter—clan and intra—clan fighting continued in (8 different regions) and in Mogadishu. No group controlled more than a fraction of the country's territory.'
The US Embassy in Mogadishu has been closed for some time. All contact with Somalia is conducted through the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Somalia comes within US Central Command's area of operations. For some years now, CENTCOM has maintained Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF—HOA), headquartered in Djibouti. None of its 1500—plus personnel, with a civil affairs, counter—terrorist mission, operates inside Somalia. They do however operate in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and Yemen.
You might say they have the place surrounded. Former CJTF—HOA commander Maj. Gen Timothy Ghormley put its mission this way: 'We are trying to dry up the recruiting pool for Al Qaeda.'
(An interesting note: current Joint Chiefs chairman, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, was Deputy Commander, Joint Task Force Somalia back in 1993.)
The two rival factions who have been fighting each other for control of Mogadishu are the US—backed Alliance For Peace Restoration and Anti—Terrorism warlord militia and the Al Qaeda—financed Islamist Sharia Court militia.
Unfortunately, covert US assistance to the Alliance, said to amount to $10 million, did not translate into victory for 'our guys.' Here is how a regional expert, an ex—Special Forces officer, pseudonym 'Bellisaurius' assessed that situation in a document sent to me by a trusted friend:
'In essence, the Sharia militia controls the entire city (of Mogadishu) less parts of the southwestern and southern suburbs, principally the Medina area. The Alliance is in disarray. Only Alliance leaders Musa Sudi Yahalow Haji, Omar Finish and Abdi Hassan Awale Qaybdid are holding out in Mogadishu proper. (don't know date for this, so info may not be accurate). In the Alliance base of Jowhar, now cut off from Mogadishu, there remain only what is left of Qanyare's forces, and those of Mohammed Dhere, principal Alliance leader in the Jowhar area. (more on Dhere later).
'Taken all together, the surviving Alliance militias are not only in a state of confusion, but also hugely outnumbered and outgunned. It is only a matter of time before the Sharia militia takes full control of the capital city.... Meanwhile, the TFG sits and watches events from its base in Baidoa. The president and prime minister are enjoying success in their strategy of standing by and allowing Sharia Court militias to destroy their internal political opponents — the Alliance leadership.'
In the view of 'Bellisaurius,
'...the world will, for the time being, have to countenance a Taliban—like government in Mogadishu.'
And it now appears that Sharia Court (as in establishing strict Shari law in Somalia) militias do control most of Mogadishu. According to reports from Africa News Dimension, the senior Muslim cleric there, Sheik Nur Burud, said in a Wednesday broadcast that
'All Somalis must defend the Islamic (Sharia) Courts because...this is about war with the infidels...this fighting is about those who support Islam and godless invaders and those who support them.'
Alliance commander Jeudayi Dheere has vowed that
'If I see movement among the Islamic militias, we will attack. We will defend our town to the death.'
Meanwhile, Somalinet is reporting that TFG Prime Minister Ghedi is urging the international community to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance to Mogadishu. He told reporters in Baidoa that the 'Islamic Courts and Civil Society' (Sharia Courts) group should manage the relief and gave assurances that Mogadishu is stable. He then called for international security teams to deploy to Mogadishu to 'ensure the security and safety of the city.' In other words, he knows it is far from stable and wants UN and/or US forces there pronto.
There are three aspects of US policy for Somalia:
1. removing the terrorist threat extant in Somalia and ensuring against Somalia's use as a terrorist base;
2. preventing developments in Somalia from threatening regional peace and stability, and
3. overcoming long—term governance challenges that terrorists exploit to make Somalia a base.
In remarks from Texas Monday, President Bush said:
'I talked to Secretary of State Rice about this subject yesterday...there is instability in Somalia. The first concern, of course, would be to make sure that Somalia does not become an Al Qaeda safe haven, that it doesn't become a place from which terrorists can plot and plan. So we're watching very carefully the developments there and we will strategize more when I get back to Washington as how to best respond to the latest incident in Somalia.'
So as pro—western and Islamic militias are poised for a climactic battle for control of Mogadishu, the US and its allies must decide on their next course of action. And at CENTCOM the contingency plan for this particular situation has been taken off the shelf. Soon enough, President Bush will be facing a very tough decision.
John B. Dwyer is a frequent contributor.