August 5, 2010

Politicians Make Poor Counterinsurgents

Is it more than coincidence that on the same day the US State Department released its annual country reports on terrorism, 14 US citizens were arrested for providing financial support to al-Shabab? Proves the threat is real and that law enforcement is on top of it. Counter-terrorism officials had already dispersed into the media, providing them rapid access to spinning the story. Intentional or not the two events played well for Washington, as their timing led to the same outcome.

Like the latest bombings in Kampala, Uganda, any terror-related news involving Somalia only invokes reactionary fear in America, not rationality. Wars are driven, not resolved, by this thinking.

"This is a very disturbing trend that we have been intensely investigating in recent years,” said US attorney general Eric Holder, “and will continue to investigate and will root out. But we must also work to prevent this type of radicalization from ever taking hold.”

Now Holder may be a fine lawyer, except he's no counterinsurgent and that is the skill in question. Somalia isn’t “a terrorism” but an insurgency, which few US official are willing to differentiate. al-Shabab cannot simply be killed off or arrested, the conditions that enable it to thrive must be neutralized. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty offered a short statement: “This is a stark reminder that the threat of terrorism is not limited to faraway places. We must remain aggressive and vigilant in combating terrorism both at home and abroad.”

And Rep. Tim Walz, who represents the Rochester district where several suspects were arrested, vowed, “Terrorists around the world need to clearly understand that this country will never rest until their extremist ideology is eliminated whether it be in Somalia, Afghanistan or on the streets of Rochester. From my experience meeting with our special forces in the Horn of Africa and in meetings with the FBI held in my Rochester office, it is clear we need to remain vigilant and focused on defeating terrorism here and around the world.”

These men may or may not be capable in their positions, but they demonstrate limited familiarity with counterinsurgency. None offer any motive why these 20 suspects from Minnesota were driven to “radicalization” and “terror,” only that their kind must be defeated “around the world.” Were America to do as they say and increase military activity in Somalia, through drone strikes or overt Special Forces for example, radicalization within the Western Somali diaspora would increase.

“As demonstrated by the charges unsealed today,” Holder said, “we are seeing an increasing number of individuals, including U.S. citizens, who have become captivated by extremist ideology and have taken steps to carry out terrorist objectives, either at home or abroad. It’s a disturbing trend that we have been intensely investigating.”

But given Washington’s push for extra African Union (AU) troops in Somalia, the war itself appears immune from investigation. Daniel Benjamin, State Department coordinator for counter-terrorism, toed the same initial line that home-grown Islamist radicalization is a “disturbing trend,” only he added “it is also a trend that was to be expected.” Unwilling as he too appears to question Somalia’s root conflict, he cited Ethiopia’s invasion in 2006 as a source of “a great deal of anger.”

Rarely stated in the media is that Minnesota houses around 30,000 Somali immigrants, the most in America, and many are refugees. The AP reports, “20 men from the U.S. — all but one of Somali descent — left Minnesota from December 2007 through October 2009 to join al-Shabab.” The include 33-year-old Amina Farah Ali and 63-year-old Hawa Mohamed Hassan, Abdikadir Ali Abdi, 19; Abdisalan Hussein Ali, 21; and Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax, 33) and two others (Farah Mohamed Beledi, 26; and Abdiweli Yassin Isse, 26).

While US officials hype a “direct terror pipeline,” most avoid the direct pipeline between Ethiopia’s US-sponsored invasion and today’s events.

Holder labels the suspect list as evidence that, “we are seeing an increasing number of individuals, including U.S. citizens, who have become captivated by extremist ideology,” but only one isn’t of Somali descent. Nor have they merely been “captivated,” witnessing Somalia’s suffering and foreign meddling first hand. Benjamin also warned that another Ethiopian-style event “could foment radical support.”

And here goes a new Ugandan-led, AU backed, US funded intervention into Somalia, against the advice of many regional and international analysts and officials.

America would reconsider US foreign policy - seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia, or Israeli unilateralism - were it serious about correcting the upswing in “homegrown” radicalization. Thursday's arrests as President Barack Obama’s non-military focus, but this is erroneous. America has long driven AU and foreign intervention, whether Bush or Obama, leading to a massive Somali diaspora vulnerable to al-Shabab’s influence. With the AU’s latest mission likely to prove indecisive and further destabilize the conflict, Somalis will continue seeking refuge in the West and some will inevitably come to disdain the West.

Listening to politicians who cannot separate counter-terrorism from counterinsurgency offers a fast track to escalation and radicalization.

1 comment:

  1. Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan. Take your pick. They are laying the verbal ground work to justify their next attack.
    The Stans are not that far out of reach either.