Arab News Editorial 13 December 2001
Thursday 13 December 2001
Last Update 13 December 2001 12:00 am
If it is indeed true that the United States is about to realign its sights upon Somalia in its campaign against global terrorism, then Washington should take care.
Somalia is a very different place from Afghanistan, not least because unlike the Taleban government, whose writ ran through most of Afghanistan, there is no properly established central government in Somalia. The interim administration has been unable to stamp its authority throughout the state, which therefore remains an unstable and seething cauldron of rival factions and warlords. The Americans clearly believe that Al-Qaeda has exploited the chaos in Somalia to establish cells and that they have good evidence that Somalia was part of the international banking chain that was used to move Al-Qaeda funds around the world.
If Al-Qaeda has operated out of the country, it will have been under the protection of one of the bitterly opposed clan factions, certainly not with the support and knowledge of the official government. It can be expected that if Washington has amassed what it considers to be enough intelligence to prove an Al-Qaeda link, the American military is probably going to go after the faction it has targeted as well as Al-Qaeda itself.
Such an operation would carry great risks, over and above its actual execution. Even if it were confined to the destruction of Al-Qaeda facilities, there would almost certainly be “collateral damage” — “warspeak” for the killing of innocents. If, however, American attacks assumed a punitive dimension, designed to severely damage and humble the clan faction that Washington believes has hosted Al-Qaeda, then the consequences on Somalia could be far reaching. The destruction or humiliation of any one of the rival factions will produce a green light for the others to recommence their attacks. Precipitate US action could therefore reignite a conflict that has already torn this luckless country into pieces.
The suspicion will also be that Washington is settling unfinished business. In 1992, the world’s media were on the beaches to watch the US Marines stride purposefully ashore to prepare the way for UN peacekeepers and facilitate the distribution of much-needed aid. Not very long after this ballyhooed arrival, the Marines were riding off in their helicopters away from a failed mission, having seen 18 of their numbers slain in hard fighting in Mogadishu.
It is said that one suspected Al-Qaeda camp is close to Somalia’s border with Kenya. US military advisers are reported to have met with a local warlord about the facility. If this is indeed an Al-Qaeda base, it can hardly be imagined that its fighters are sitting in their bunkers waiting to be attacked. They would almost certainly have packed up what they could and moved out days ago, maybe crossing into Kenya. If US smart bombs are therefore rained on this place, they will destroy merely buildings.
Thus, any move to bombard, attack and punish Somalis, who are seen as having cooperated with or condoned the presence of Al-Qaeda, carries with it huge risks, not least that of destabilizing an already chronically unstable country and precipitating another terrible round of internecine violence.