Today, the Kenya-Somali border remains porous, though Kenya has begun beefing up border police forces. Al-Qaida regards Somalia as its "first victory" over the U.S. Al-Qaida's "Letter 3" (from its "Letters to Africa Corps," translated in June 2002) made that clear. Of the U.S. retreat from Mogadishu in 1993 (spurred by the "Blackhawk Down" battle), Letter 3 said: "The Somali experience confirmed the spurious nature of American ?power and that it has not recovered from the Vietnam complex. It fears ?getting bogged down in a real war that would reveal its psychological collapse at the level of personnel and leadership."
Somalia is arguably the planet's foremost "failed state," with the Democratic Republic of Congo its basket-case competitor. Ethiopia and the African Union support Somalia's Transitional National Government (TNG). The AU has a small peacekeeping force in Mogadishu (led by contingents from Uganda and Burundi), allegedly protecting the weak TNG. Al Shabab draws ideological support from al-Qaida but the nation of Eritrea supplies weapons and training. Eritrea and Ethiopia are fighting a proxy war in Somalia, an extension of their own unresolved border conflict. This war provides toxic fuel for the shadow war of terrorists, clans, pirates and SOF.
Resolving the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict would help lower the heat in the Somali cauldron, but that won't happen anytime soon.
On 9-11, the U.S. learned the bitter lesson that it cannot ignore the world's chaotic corners because terrorists will use them as global bases.
Al-Qaida once regarded Kenya and other sub-Saharan African countries as "soft targets" (easy to hit with little risk). Kenyans cannot ignore Somalia. Ethiopia certainly doesn't.
The result is a shadow war, where U.S. SOF target terrorist leadership and seek to disrupt terrorist plans.
The Somali people, however, are the real soft targets, and al-Qaida and its affiliate Al Shabab have no compunction about using them as sacrificial pawns and human shields. Letter 3 advocated creating a "national Islamic front" in Somalia - a shabby mask for al-Qaida's regional and international aims.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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