Al Shabaab, blow-back and the unintended consequences of GWOT

There has been a great deal of excellent reporting of Al Shabaab’s most recent atrocity in Nairobi. But surprisingly little coverage of its historical background.

For instance, everyone recalls the Mogadishu Blackhawk Down/Night of the Ranger firefight, but few are interested in the unintended, but utterly predictable consequences of the ill-conceived and often idiotic ‘war-on-terror’ in Somalia.

What we have witnessed is yet another bloody blow-back in USA’s proxy war against Terror. And yes, it is often hard to tell cause from effect.

Reading Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, he spends some time on the US’s growing intervention in Somalia via Kenya and Ethiopia throughout the mid-2000’s. Read his well-researched book, it’s worth the effort.

The US backed Somalia’s warlords against the supposed Al Quaeda threat – breaking a UN arms embargo. Scahill cites a number of sources which argue this, together with the subsequent invasion of southern Somalia, created an opening for Al Qaeda in a country which had, been a largely secular hellhole, rather than a religious one.

Scahill cites experts saying the US should have engaged diplomatically with the ICU’s Mogadishu government. He says that the ICU head Sheik Sharif had made overtures to the US and the international community. “We share no objectives, goals or methods with groups that sponsor or support terrorism”, Sharif said in an open letter.

In 2006 US special forces began a series of incursions across the Ethiopia/Somalia border. The two are old enemies. In December Ethiopian bombers flew and their tanks rolled – with US backing.

The US was concerned by the growth of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which was in turn a quasi-replacement for Somalia’s failed government. The tribal-centred courts were an answer to the warlords. Scahill argues they were not initially prone to Al Quaeda control.

Al Shahaab became something akin to the ICU’s militant wing, but Al Quaeda was never able to gain a strong foothold Somalia. Instead they turned to attacks in Kenya, and subsequently to blood-diamonds in Sudan.

So the argument is this. Which came first, a virulent strain of Somalian Al Quaeda or misplaced US support for that benighted country’s warlords, and de facto opposition to Islamic Courts.

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