Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Kampala Bombings

Al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda linked militants that control most of Somalia, have claimed responsibility for the bombings—and attempted bombing—in Kampala on Sunday. The Kampala attacks represent the first time al-Shabab has launched an attack outside of the territory of Somalia—excepting, of course, a spate of attacks last autumn in Somaliland.

In the past, Al-Shabab has threatened to attack Kenya and Ethiopia for their support of the Transitional Federal Government and their occupation of Somalia, respectively. It would appear that the bombings in Kampala fit the pattern of al-Shabab reacting against what it views as foreign interference in Somalia—Uganda has provided a large contingent of the AU peace keepers currently operating in Somalia; al-Shabab threatened further attacks against Uganda and Burundi if their troops do not leave Somalia. Notably, the United States also backs the TFG and provided military and intelligence support to Ethiopia during its invasion in 2006—the invasion that sparked al-Shabab.

Despite this apparent causal relationship, the US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs is quoted in today’s New York Times as saying, “[Al-Shabab] was a localized cancer, but the cancer has metastasized into a regional crisis. It is a crisis that has bled across borders and is now infecting the international community.”

It is not clear, at this point, that al-Shabab has or even desires to obtain the capacity to operate on a global level and truly “infect[] the international community.” Nevertheless, al-Shabab’s now demonstrated ability to operate at least regionally, and its supposed close links to al-Qaeda, should make the United States very nervous.

The Kampala bombings demonstrate quite clearly:
  • The international community’s policy in Somalia has been an abject failure. The TFG should be abandoned and a clear eyed reassessment of US interests and local actors should be undertaken.
  • In the territory of Somalia controlled by al-Shabab, terrorists are able to plan, train, and launch at least regional, cross-border terrorist assaults of a relatively sophisticated nature.
  • In the territory of Somalia not controlled by al-Shabab, pirates have free rein and are able to act with impunity.
Thus, it is only the territory of Somalia governed by unrecognized Somaliland that does not present a threat to the international community. In fact Somaliland’s cooperation with the West, its government’s ability to control its territory, and its working judicial system, make it something of bulwark against the international insecurity festering in rump Somalia. A good step forward, from a security policy perspective, would be to recognize Somaliland.

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