Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The lessons of Somalia

The recent U.S. airstrikes against suspected al-Qaeda militants in Somalia raises some questions and reinforces some points that often get lost in the debate over Iraq.

Reports out of Somalia are, as always, conflicting on that score. Somali officials are reporting that Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a key planner of the 1998 embassy bombings, was killed, but U.S. officials caution against believing that and say they aren't even sure he was in the country.

Assuming the strike is not a precursor to something foolish -- like the introduction of U.S. ground troops -- it signals a return to the sort of thing we should be doing in battling terrorism: identifying top terrorists and killing them, as we have with missile-armed drones in Yemen and other such places. It's a pinpoint approach that goes after actual terrorists, rather than the big hammer approach of invasion that inflames whole populations and consumes lives and resources while creating enemies rather than eliminating them.

It's not always the easiest path. It takes elite troops and excellent equipment. It requires that the intelligence be good and the strike accurate. And above all it takes patience -- both political and tactical.

So far, the Somali strike appears to fit the bill. Let's hope we see more of this sort of operation as we begin to extricate ourselves from the mess in Iraq.

Somalia also shows the value of using regional proxies -- Ethiopia, in this case -- to do whatever conventional fighting is required. By avoiding the introduction of U.S. troops, it not only makes such interventions easier politically but also avoids a very practical problem -- the inflammatory nature of a U.S. troop presence. Astute selection of such countries helps develop and strengthen allies in key regions and sends a message to the world: if you fight terrorists, you can expect our help; if you harbor them, you can expect us to help your enemies.

It's not quite that simple, of course: care must be taken not to back allies of momentary convenience, or get drawn into taking sides in a local conflict because of spurious or insignificant terrorist connections. But it worked in Afghanistan, it's working in Somalia and it can work elsewhere, too.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's more differences between Somalia and Iraq. In Somalia, the government wants al Qaeda and the terrorists out and is fully cooperating----even helping. In Iraq, certain factions of the government I am sure do not want al Qaeda out and do not want to help. Also, any civilians that were killed in the attack on the terrorists in Somalia weren't even mentioned as a complication. If we did something like a C130 gunship attack in Iraq, many civilians would be killed and that would be used by the terrorists as propaganda to their advantage. The liberal press would also have a field day with the information, which would also further hurt our cause.

A country is more likely to enjoy success IF the entire country supports what they are doing. Like here in our country---I dare say that IF we had all the Democrats on-board in support of actually WINNING in Iraq, we would have already done so. As it is----we have to fight both the terrorists AND the Democrats at home.


1/10/2007 9:50 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

In Somalia, Al-Qaeda was there before we went in; In Iraq, it didn't arrive until after we did -- and by then it had 15,000 Sunni insurgents to help.

Civilian deaths are always a factor, and has been part of the reporting on the Somali strike. Are you suggesting they should not be reported? You don't use a Spectre gunship in heavily populated areas for a reason: it's not a precision weapon.

Finally, your simplistic blaming of Democrats for our predicament makes two errors.

First, it assumes that all wars are equally just, equally winnable and equally well-conducted.

Second, it reverses the proper direction of responsibility. In a democracy it is the responsibility of the government to make the case for war and build popular support; it is not the responsibility of the people to blindly support the government in whatever wars it chooses.

1/10/2007 11:21 PM  

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