Today the guys at SecDef-blog run a nice post on Somalia (I am currently writing a chapter for this year's terrorism yearbook on Somalia, so I cannot help but comment). But more than that: There is now also the first foreign-policy shift by the Obama-administration that I fully endorse (well, on second thought thats not entirely correct. I endorsed the Afghanistan surge as well, but anyway). So here is the deal: Somalia has turned into a major foreign policy headache. Not overnight, of course, we simply began to notice. And I do concur, we need to do more on, in, whatever, with regard to Somalia. The question, however, is, what exactly is there we can do?
First, the major problem is that there has always been a major disconnect between the situation in Somalia and our policy initiatives (and I recently wrote that even the Council on Foreign Relations is getting it wrong). However, last week, Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, announced a policy shift and said the US would seek a second pillar for its Somalia-strategy (the first being the support for the internationally recognised by pretty weak and cornered Transitional Federal Government). Quite correctly, the US now wants to increase cooperation with break-away, democratic Somaliland and the somewhat and literally in-between Puntland. That will certainly help contain the Somali crisis, considering that next to Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, Puntland and Somaliand are equally inviting targets for al-Shabaab.
Second, ponder this: The CIA (if that yields any credibility) said a couple of months ago that there are only between 70 and 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and some wondered, not only therefore, what the hell we were doing in Afghanistan. The number of foreign fighters in Somalia is assumed to be somewhere between 300 and 500 (includeing the 14 Americans of Somali origin who have recently been indicted by Eric Holder). Of course not all of them belong to al-Qaeda, but they do fight on the other side of this global war. Buttom line: Somalia is an equally inviting magnet for foreign fighters as Afghanistan has been and just as with piracy thats a land-based problem. So enforcing the weapons-embargo (thats something for our flotilla off the coast of Somalia) and trying to figure out a strategy on Eritrea would help us to do at least something. But that of course would require that we do recognise that this has indeed become a front in the war on terror.
Third there is one question I wouldn't know how to respond to. I admit. What are we going to do about the Transitional Federal Government (TFG)? Boosting its credibility by introducing the Sharia didn't help (keep that in mind, Afghanistan-analysts) and even the African Union troops (AMISOM) cannot help it to break out of its corner on the coastal strip of Mogadishu. All training missions did not change the poor morale and discipline of its forces and even the African Union is complaining about TFG-forces regularly abandoning its positions. So, any ideas?