Tuesday, January 02, 2007

So You've Won...Now What?

Ethiopian troops, in support of Somalian government forces, seem to have routed the rebel fighters of the Council of Islamic Courts, a fairly important victory against radical Islam. Despite their claims to the contrary, the Islamic Courts have been accused of harboring several members of al-Qaeda suspected of involvement in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa, foreign jihadists have been found dead on the battlefield, and bin Laden and Zawahiri have proclaimed Somalia to be an important front in their war against the West.

One must be careful of drawing too optimistic a lesson from the Ethiopian victory as does Ralph Peters in today's New York Post. For Peters, Somalia represents the wisdom of standing up to radical Islam, rather than running:

Unconvinced by Western myths that military force is useless against terrorists, Addis Ababa's troops intervened to support Somalia's internationally recognized government against the jihadis. The no-nonsense use of force worked.

An Islamist regime that supposedly had broad support collapsed so quickly the international media couldn't keep up: On New Year's morning, newspapers warned that the Islamists, who'd fled Mogadishu, were digging in to defend their "stronghold," the vital port city of Kismayo. By the time those sanctimonious papers hit the streets, the hardcore extremists had high-tailed it, their mass of recruits had deserted and the Ethiopian military had gained control of Kismayo without a battle.

...The ideal of a perfect, eternal victory - to which the media hold those who battle terrorism - is an unfair standard. A win that overthrows a terrorist regime, whether in Afghanistan or Somalia, is worth the fight, even if the enemy can't be completely eradicated. Desperate terrorists struggling for survival are always preferable to a terrorist regime in the capital city.
Peters does note that the troubles are far from over. Indeed. There has never been any question that a rag-tag bunch of jihadists are no match for a well-equipped and well-trained military. The question is: Will the Islamic Courts turn to terror tactics to try to retake power?

The answer is not yet clear. The ability of jihadists and/or terrorists to succeed in menacing an entire country depends to a large part on the willingness of the local populace to tolerate their presence. In Iraq, while the foreign backed insurgency has weakened due to discontent within the Iraqi people, the Sunni insurgency has grown as Sunnis feel threatened and insecure in the face of a Shia-led government and Shiite militias. In Somalia, the future largely depends on two things: The speed with which Ethiopia withdraws its forces (Ethiopia is a traditional competitor, if not enemy, of Somalia) and the capacity of the government to form a stable ruling coalition. The US and the West must be willing to help with both tasks. African peacekeepers are preparing to deploy, and they must be given the funds and means to succeed in establishing control over the country. Already, there seems to be some resistance to disarming from Somalis, but as Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon have learned lately, there can be no peace where there is no government monopoly on force.

The US and its allies should begin supporting the new Somali government and the African peacekeepers immediately, and Ethiopian forces should be urged to pull out as soon as possible. Poor planning and policy could allow defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory; in this case the stakes -- a terrorist state -- are simply too high.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

The Head Heeb relates reports that the US is pushing the Somali transitional government (itself a far from prize-winning collection of warlord/bandits) to negotiate with the more reasonable leaders of the Islamic Judicial Council, Yemen to act as a host. There are also indications the US has begun direct bilateral talks with said clergy.