Yes Virginia, There is a Somalia
Pajamas Media has a huge roundup of operations in Somalia, centered on AC-130 attacks on al-Qaeda trying to flee the country for their lives. In From the Cold had these thoughts about the unwelcome arrival of the Spectre gunships, which what do you know, were part of a US component to the Ethiopian campaign all along.
You've had your triumphs in the past, but recently, you've hit a rough patch. The Ethiopian Army has invaded your safe haven in Somalia, forcing you to flee. Can't take a boat out of Mogadishu, because the U.S. Navy has blockaded the coast. Can't go north, because the Ethiopians aren't very keen on Al Qaida prisoners. So, what do you do? Head south, and hope for the best. Try to establish a new operating location among more friendly Muslims in the south. Why, here's a place we can hide.
What's that sound? Four-engine turbo-prop aircraft. Not to worry. Probably just a cargo plane.
But it's Pajamas' Richard Miniter who has one of the longest and best informed pieces. He notes that although it has flown under the media's radar, which is obsessed with Iraq, Africa has become one of the major battlegrounds against Islamic extremism. He interviewed incoming Somalia cabinet minister Dahir Jibreel came who was in the company of Pajamas correspondent Daveed Gartenstein-Ross.
The strike also highlights a development which largely escaped the notice of Congress and the public: Africa is becoming a major battleground in the war on terror, especially the sahel, a dry band that south of the Sahara that stretches from the Erg Iguidi of Mauritania, across Mali,Niger,Chad, Sudan, Egypt, Eritrea, to Somalia’s litter-strewn shores. Sahel is Arabic for margin and the region has long been at the margin of Western thinking.
But not so for the radical Salafis. Wahabbi missionaries have canvassed this dry belt for almost two decades, transforming the Islamic practice of the region and sending record numbers of its residents on pilgrimage to Mecca. Al Qaeda, its allies and affiliates, have not been far behind. ...
Yesterday’s AC-130 strike was not the first time that American fixed-wing aircraft have swooped down over Somalia to deliver death blows to al Qaeda-allied Islamic Courts Union. Jibreel, speaking for the government of Somalia, confirmed that the U.S. planes and helicopters “flying anonymously” having been striking targets since the start of the Ethiopian surge against the ICU last month.
Indeed, Jabreel said, the U.S. and Ethiopia seemed to have been planning the military incursion for several months. He said that he saw U.S. military planes and soldiers at Wajer, a strategic air strip in Kenya, some 45 days before the Ethiopians launched their headline-making offensive.
Reflecting on the apparent suddenness of events, Miniter mused: "Only the media, not the military, has been distracted." The Media had forgotten it, but no one else had. In retrospect, the absence of media focus on events in Africa and the Horn in particular may have been a good thing because it enabled operational goals to be set, preparations made and plans executed without the distraction of politics, normally only a few steps behind the the arrival mainstream media coverage. But leaving that comment about the Media aside, Miniter's larger point should not be forgotten. The threat from extremist groups today, of which radical Islamism is the leading but not the only example, is a worldwide challenge. It is the challenge of our times and not optional.
It is like going through an old house you thought was safe and finding a slow fire smoldering everywhere under the carpet. In examining the case of the Islamic suicide cells in the Philippines it soon became apparent (to me at least) that there may be a growing alliance between the Communist insurgency and radical Islam; that Islamist cells have spread from their traditional strongholds in Mindanao, and that as a result of Muslim migrations to Luzon and the Visayas, Islamic radicals have now acquired the social infrastructure to range anywhere in the archipelago. Finally, there are intimate connections between international terrorist groups and domestic Philippine terror cells requiring a "handoff" between local law enforcement and Coalition intelligence sources each time they cross the border. If the world is going to find a solution to this confrontation that does not involve mass tragedies it had better stop thinking we can travel back to September 10, 2001.
The politicization of the Iraq war -- on both sides to be fair -- has obscured the global nature of the threat. The narratives that have grown out of Iraq provide almost entirely the wrong framework to understand the problem. Intelligent and ostensibly well-informed commentators speak as if it were possible to avoid the challenge by withdrawing forces across this or that national boundary, as if the current world crisis was still entirely an affair between nation-state actors. Nation-states are still important. But they are no longer absolutely central. They play an important role as enablers: providers of money, training and technology that is beyond the ability of individual terrorist cells, hampered in their potential for growth by the Dunbar Number, to attain. But in Africa and in every other place where borders are vague things, the distinction between states and nonstate actors is blurred and consequently the need for combined military, diplomatic and private venture initiatives without artificial constraints becomes more important. The War Terror is not the co-extensive with events in Iraq. Somalia is a reminder that. It is ironic that the place from which Bill Clinton withdrew after Blackhawk Down incident is now seeing Americans in action again. The challenge remains whether we want it or not. Even if no one hears a tree falling in the forest, the tree still falls.