Two weeks have passed since al-Shabab, the African subsidiary of al-Qaeda, murdered over 70 innocents in Kampala. Former Bush Administration speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen makes a convincing case that the Obama Administration must keep a sharp eye on Somalia and Yemen as an emerging terror threat to the U.S. Thiessen recounts recent adverse developments, including the July 11 Uganda bombings and the arrest of a northern Virginia man, Zachary Adam Chesser, charged with seeking to join foreign fighters in Somalia.
Thiessen questions the Administration’s decision to order U.S. special operations agents to target and kill al-Shabab leader Saleh Ali Nabhan in September 2009 rather than try a capture of a potential intelligence gold mine. Overall, cracking down on terrorists and piracy safe-havens in Somalia is proving difficult for the Obama Administration.
Leaders of the African Union (AU) met in Uganda this past week. The Kampala bombing, al-Shabab, and Somalia were high on their agenda. Uganda promised 2,000 fresh troops for the AU’s “peacekeeping mission” in Somalia (AMISOM). Also promising troops were Burundi, Guinea, and Djibouti. Despite these pledges, AMISOM faces severe manpower, financial, and logistical challenges and runs the risk of being perceived as yet another foreign invasion force. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) cannot stop a disheartening flow of defectors to al-Shabab while critics see the AU’s effort as a repeat of the 2007 Ethiopian intervention against the Islamic Courts Union that ultimately failed.
The President sent Attorney General Eric Holder to the AU summit. There Holder expressed solidarity with the victims of the bombings and promised to work hard with the AU to fight terrorism. The unveiling of a Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, an anti-corruption tool to strip looting leaders of any ill-gotten U.S. assistance funds, likely sent a frisson down the spines of several leaders in attendance.
AMISOM and the fragile TFG are the shaky planks upon which U.S. policy toward Somalia rest. U.S. Africa Command’s commander General “Kip” Ward, appearing in Washington recently, said the U.S. is working closely with AMISOM to fight terror but broke no new ground.
With fresh attention on Somalia, the Obama Administration should develop an effective strategy for dealing with Somalia, Yemen and al-Shabab. It should look again at political forces in Puntland and Somaliland that want to distance themselves from al-Shabab.