Afghanistan Again: Somalia Falling to Al Qaeda
The terror group stands on the verge of conquering first safe haven since 9/11. by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross A Pajamas Media Exclusive Al Qaeda's allies in Somalia are on the verge of seizing the secular government's last stronghold - opening the possibility of a "new Afghanistan" to shelter America's enemies. Somalia is at a critical juncture. In the coming days, the world will learn whether the transitional federal government is strong enough to fend off the terrorists' assault. If it fails, al-Qaeda will win its first countrywide safe haven since 9/11. The radical Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a Taliban-like group linked to Osama bin Laden, seized the Somali capital of Mogadishu in June and has steadily gained control of strategic cities throughout the country since then. Its main rival, the secular transitional federal government, is now confined to the south-central Somali city of Baidoa.
December 22, 2006 - 8:29 am
Baidoa is heavily fortified and protected by a large contingent of Ethiopian troops but its defenses will not hold, intelligence sources tell PJ Media. Ethiopia has allied itself with Somalia’s embattled transitional federal government.
Reached by PJ Media, Dahir Jibreel, the transitional government’s permanent secretary in charge of international cooperation, confirmed that a massive offensive is underway. Jibreel said that the ICU launched an “offensive on the seat of the government from three directions: Burkhakabo, Idale and Dinsor.”
Jibreel is guardedly optimistic, noting that the Islamic radicals “sustained heavy losses.”
“They will overrun Baidoa,” a military intelligence officer told PJ Media. “It’s only a question of when.”
Prior to this attack, the ICU fought against Ethiopian forces three times in open battle. Standing armies generally defeat irregular forces in such situations, but the ICU won all three encounters. The radical group may have won a fourth victory over the Ethiopians yesterday by capturing the town of Idale, about seventy kilometers south of Baidoa. Jibreel, however, contends that the transitional government actually maintains control of that town.
These repeated ICU victories over the Ethiopian army provide reason to believe that the Ethiopians will be unable to save Baidoa.
“It appears that the ICU is now trying to draw transitional government and Ethiopian forces out of their fortifications, causing them to take greater risks,” Nick Grace, who is in close contact with Somali sources and covers the conflict on Global Crisis Watch, told PJ Media. The transitional government, Grace said, may be overconfident in assuming that the Ethiopians will not back out, and also that the United States will ultimately intervene.
Sources close to the transitional government told PJ Media that the government is unlikely to flee.
An American intelligence source complained that it appears that the transitional government hasn’t even considered the possibility that it could lose Baidoa. In contrast, he said, “the ICU is already thinking three moves ahead, trying to figure out how to get recognized internationally as the legitimate government of Somalia.”
Asked if the transitional government has an exit strategy, Abdiweli Ali, an assistant professor of economics at Niagara University and a supporter of the transitional government, expressed confidence in Somali president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. But he added, “Do they have an exit strategy? I’m not privy to that information.”
If the transitional government does flee from the country, its best option appears to be touting itself as a “government in exile,” remaining a thorn in the ICU’s side-and thereby possibly denying the ICU international recognition.
A similar strategy was employed by the Northern Alliance after the Taliban seized Kabul, the Afghan capital.
A military intelligence officer told PJ Media that if this were to occur, the safest place for the ICU would be Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
But the transitional government may be more likely to flee to Nairobi, Kenya-especially since the ICU has sealed off the border with Ethiopia to prevent members of the government from escaping.
ICU operatives inside Kenya are ready to carry out suicide attacks against Somali government officials, a military intelligence officer said. These operatives are believed to be relying on the same terrorist infrastructure that was used to carry out the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings and the 2002 suicide bombings in Mombasa, Kenya.
Citing the presence of “infiltrators and sleeper cells” in Nairobi and Mombasa, Jibreel said, “I believe Kenya is not safe.”
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is the author of My Year Inside Radical Islam (Tarcher/Penguin 2007). His articles have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal Europe, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, and The Washington Times.