Tag Archives: somalia

Money Talks: Deconstructing Militant Terrorism in Somalia

While a lot of attention is focused on Yemen as the next major center for Islamic terrorism, a disturbing trend is continuing in Somalia.  As the country continues to suffer from lack of a central government to provide for its people, militant Islam is gaining a progressively stronger foothold.  Two stories this week provide evidence that both Al Shabab and Hizbul Islam (the two major Islamist groups in Somalia) are starting to significantly affect the social landscape of the country, as well as easily recruit young people into their ranks.

New York Times Article reported that Hizbul Islam ordered radio stations in the capital of Mogadishu to stop playing music because it is “un-Islamic.”  The terrorist group threatened radio stations with consequences if they did not comply with the order.  The article goes on to point out that this is just one in a series of attacks aimed at the media in Somalia.  Al Shabab has denounced some broadcasts at Western propaganda, and reports say that nine journalists were killed in Somalia in 2009.

It was also reported that Al Shabab is recruiting young Somalis into the group by offering them regularly salaries and what amounts to “signing bonuses” of up to $400.  The Somali youth are tempted by the money because their families are desperate need of it to buy food.  The story tells about former recruits that joined up with Al Shabab not because of any ideology, but because the militant groups are one of the few ways that a person can provide for their family.

Despite the benefit that they provide, reports from Somalia seem to suggest that Al Shabab and Hizbul Islam’s popularity is in decline.  The argument could be made that these groups will simply go away eventually if the population does not embrace them.  That may very well be true.  Without the support of the Somali people it will be extremely difficult for the Islamists to gain control of the country; however, the fact remains that Somalia is a country with essentially no central government and that makes the country a prime target to become a  major terrorist hub.  Without a government to provide for the people of Somalia those people will do what they have to in order to survive, even if they have to turn to militant groups that they may dislike.  The influence of militant groups in Somalia will remain high as long as they are the central source of obtaining money and other essentials.

photo: securitywatch/flickr

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All Roads Lead to Pakistan, But Does the Terrorist Hunt End There?

President Obama’s strategy towards terrorism is understandably Pakistan-centric.  Any honest assessment of terrorist and nuclear threats to the United States finds an intersection in Pakistan.  But the US may be at risk, once again, of agreeing to take on a problem that is neither bound in objective nor time.

Ensuring that Pakistan has the capacity and desire to secure its nuclear arsenal and territorial integrity from militants, particularly terrorists, is certainly in the US’s best interest.  But what does a secure Pakistan look like from the US perspective?  How long will US forces be involved in Pakistan?  Politically, how long can US forces be involved in Pakistan?  And most importantly, is Pakistan really going to be the last frontier in the fight against terrorism?

It’s not difficult to imagine a situation in August of 2011 where ISAF has largely subdued the al Qaeda and Taliban threat in Afghanistan.  What is harder to imagine is a Pakistan whose security puts the US at ease.  A war that started in Afghanistan may very well continue in Pakistan.

But it may not end in Pakistan.  Terrorist activity in Yemen poses a similar problem to the US.  It is politically untenable for the US to engage in overt action to any significant degree, leaving only military aid and training to support the local government and military.  Somalia, too, poses a similar problem. The lack of tangible government in Somalia means that the US could potentially conduct military operations – an enticing prospect that has been realized at least once in the last year.

The relatively recent rise of terrorist safehavens in these areas means that if the US seeks to eradicate terrorism, it may very well do so without rest for the foreseeable future.  These regions do not pose the same nuclear threat that Pakistan does, but they may one day pose the same terrorist threat that Afghanistan did.

At some point the question “what’s next?” has to give way to the question “where is the end?”  What are the costs of playing an endless game of terrorist whack-a-mole?

In the early 1970’s Britain’s Home Secretary said that the IRA may “not be defeated, not completely eliminated, but have their violence reduced to an acceptable level.”  Most Americans would be most comfortable knowing that the terrorist threat as we know it today had been categorically eliminated.  But we must also recognize that the costs and practicality of doing so may be prohibitive.  The question, then, is to decide when we will be satisfied and then communicate that frustrating reality with a nation.

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