Counter-Terrorism: The Lesser of Several Evils

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May 17, 2006: American diplomats and counter-terrorism officials have made a deal with a coalition of Somali warlords, many of them officials in the new transitional government, to form an "anti-terrorist" coalition. This is a risky business, but there were no better alternatives to the growing al Qaeda activity within Somalia.

While Somalia is still a dangerous place, a new society, and economy, has developed. Businessmen make deals with warlords, and under that protection, do everything from running chains of Internet cafes, to generating electricity and operating cell phone systems. It's all pretty crude, but an improvement over the "Mad Max" type squalor of only a few years ago. For the warlords, this is all about business. Even blood-thirsty petty tyrants have to live, and pay cash if they want to buy a new SUV from the stolen car dealer.

The Islamic Courts movement is very similar to the Taliban, and similar groups found throughout Islamic history. "Holy Warriors" and "Jihad" are not just for fighting infidels (non-Moslems), but also to crack down on those of the faithful who have gone bad. The difference in Somalia is that the Islamic Courts are clan based. Those tribal leaders and warlords with religious inclinations provided the first models. While the Islamic Courts warlords find themselves with some more disciplined and enthusiastic gunmen, they are also obliged to listen to religious leaders, and ease up on the usual wantonness and cruelty, at least compared to their less religious counterparts.

American counter-terrorism forces in the area have plenty of sources within Somalia, as well as air reconnaissance (UAVs, aircraft, some satellite coverage) and electronic eavesdropping. What that has revealed is the presence of some known al Qaeda operatives, and a growing number of new recruits. There are two or three al Qaeda training facilities, and some overseas Somalis (now living in Europe and North America) have paid visits. This is particularly disturbing.

There were several ways of dealing with this problem, none of them without risk. Sending in commandos to kill the key al Qaeda operatives was one option. There is risk, even with highly trained commandos. And there was also the likelihood that the deceased al Qaeda leaders would be replaced by eager assistants. Better to destroy the entire al Qaeda infrastructure. But that could only be done with a large force, that would have to take control of the entire country. Not enough American troops available for that. But there were Somali leaders, including many in the newly formed parliament and transitional government, who would be glad to destroy al Qaeda, and the Islamic Courts that support Islamic terrorism. The problem with this approach, which is apparently being tried, is that the anti-terrorist warlords are no angels themselves. But these thugs are considered the lesser of two evils. The Islamic thugs want to export their violence, while the non-Islamic thugs are content to keep it all inside Somalia.

 


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