ONE OF THE
rhetorical questions frequently tossed out in the debate over
Afghanistan concerns the brewing trouble in Somalia and Yemen, both of
which are known to host al-Qaeda cadres and training camps. If it's
necessary to pacify Afghanistan to protect U.S. security, goes the
taunt, must we also intervene in Somalia and Yemen?
The presumed answer is: "Of course not -- and therefore why bother with
Afghanistan?" The more sensible response is: If something is not done
soon about these lawless places, one or the other may well become the
next Afghanistan -- a place where U.S. military intervention was
compelled by a devastating attack on the homeland.
Most urgent is Somalia: Washington's focus on Afghanistan has obscured
what ought to be alarming recent reports about al-Qaeda's schooling of
terrorists there -- including a substantial number of American citizens.
National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael R. Leiter recently
reported to Congress that a radical Islamic militia known as al-Shabaab
has sent dozens -- that's right, dozens -- of Somali Americans and
American Muslims through training conducted by al-Qaeda. At least seven
have already been killed in fighting in Somalia, where al-Shabaab is
challenging the internationally recognized but weak Somali government
over the parts of Mogadishu it still holds.
Some experts question whether the Taliban leadership is still
intertwined with al-Qaeda. In the case of Somalia, there is no question.
Al-Shabaab recently released a video pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda. It
featured an American spokesman and showed footage of a training camp
starring a former University of South Alabama student. Al-Shabaab may
not aspire to launch attacks against the United States, but it seems
more than plausible that it would allow some of its U.S. passport
holders to be drafted for an al-Qaeda mission.
The Obama administration is not ignoring this threat. Last month a bold
raid by U.S. Special Forces killed one of Somalia's top al-Qaeda
operatives. But such stand-off counterterrorism operations are no more
likely to solve the problem on their own than they are in Afghanistan
and Pakistan. What's needed is a complementary and concerted effort to
bolster the Somali government and its army, so that it is able to turn
back al-Shabaab and extend its authority across the country.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently met President Sharif
Ahmed and said that his moderate Islamist administration was "the best
hope we've had in quite some time for a return to stability." But U.S.
support for Mr. Ahmed has been modest. Washington is a big donor of food
and other humanitarian aid and provides funds to train the military, but
Mr. Ahmed recently told The Post that he desperately needs more military
support and an expansion of a U.N. peacekeeping force.
Administration officials say that a review of the situation in Somalia
is underway, with aims that include strengthening the government. It's a
hard problem: The country has lacked a national government for 20 years,
and attempts by the past three U.S. presidents to help restore order,
with U.S. troops or with proxies, failed dismally. But Somalia is not a
country the United States and its allies can ignore or treat merely with
missile strikes. As in Afghanistan before 2001, the mounting threat of
terrorist organizations, and their potential to strike far beyond the
horn of Africa, are apparent. The indelible lesson of Sept. 11, 2001, is
that they must be countered aggressively.
Source: The Washington Post, November 02, 2009