U.S. Sees Growing Threats In Somalia Al-Qaeda’s Influence, Possible War With Ethiopia Are Concerns; By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post Staff Writer
Al-Qaeda, long hovering in the shadows, has established itself as a presence in the Somali capital, say U.S. officials, who see a growing risk that Somalia will become a new haven for terrorists to launch attacks beyond its borders.
Meanwhile, a major war — promoted and greeted approvingly by Osama bin Laden — looms between Somalia [Muslim] and Ethiopia [Christian], threatening a regional conflagration likely to draw more foreign extremists into the Horn of Africa.
Among administration officials, Congress, U.S. allies and other interested and fearful parties, there is a rising sense that Somalia is spinning rapidly out of control. …
“The Council of Islamic Courts is now controlled by . . . East Africa al-Qaeda cell individuals,” Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer said of Mogadishu’s new rulers. …
In a taped statement released in July, bin Laden called on Somalis to begin preparing for regional war. He recalled the 1994 withdrawal of U.S. military forces after a warlord attack killed 18 U.S. troops, saying, “This time, victory will be far easier.”
U.S. intelligence officials described the statement at the time as part of bin Laden’s failing claim to the leadership of a worldwide Islamic movement, despite the dispersion of the al-Qaeda network by the U.S. terrorism fight. Now they are not so certain. …
Events in Somalia could provide an immediate spark for a wider war in the Horn of Africa; the roots of such a conflict would be tangled in complicated, long-standing regional animosities. The United Nations reported last month that Ethiopia has sent thousands of troops to help prop up the two-year-old transitional government in Baidoa. The same report said Eritrea, whose 1970s war with Ethiopia is still smoldering over an unsettled border dispute, has deployed thousands of troops to train and fight alongside the Islamists. Arab neighbors and sympathizers are also reportedly providing funds.
Ethiopia, a Christian-dominated nation, also fought a war with Somalia in the 1970s, over the ethnic Somali and largely Muslim Ethiopian province of Ogaden.
Last week, Somali Islamists threatened a “major attack” if the Ethiopians do not withdraw by Tuesday. Ethiopia has said, in essence, bring it on.
Somalia descended into chaos after U.S. and U.N. troops withdrew in 1994, with warring clans competing for power and the rest of the world turning away. When the Islamist push began several years ago, the Bush administration started paying attention — and funding locally unpopular warlords to gather intelligence and gird for battle.
“By making a bad bet on the warlords to do our bidding,” incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) charged last week, “the administration has managed to strengthen the Courts, weaken our position and leave no good options. This is one of the least-known but most dangerous developments in the world, and the administration lacks a credible strategy to deal with it.“ …
John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, who worked on Africa issues in the Clinton National Security Council and State Department, called the current administration’s policy “idiotic.” Tacit U.S. support for Ethiopia’s military incursion has “incalculably strengthened” the Courts’ appeal to Somali nationalism and “made our counterterrorism agenda nearly impossible to implement,” he said.
Duhbya: “He’s King Midas in reverse, he’s King Midas with a curse.” mjh