The killing of Saleh Ali Nabhan, a leader of al-Shabab, in Somalia yesterday dramatically reduced the list of wanted terrorist individuals in the country. I say dramatically, because the total number of known terrorists in Somalia is no more than half a dozen. This is the paradoxical story of the war on terror in Somalia.
On the one hand, the implication of terrorism, its related activities and global reach, were not significant enough to generate serious international involvement to deal with the country. This is why we continue to see ad hoc military strikes here and there without any coherent strategy to stabilise the country, dissociate thousands of young people from becoming radicalised and, most importantly, provide vital humanitarian assistance to millions of Somalis. On the other hand, the terrorist infrastructure in Somalia is severe enough to deny the country any sense of normality and stability, or for governance to take root.
Immediately after 11 September 2001, the US decided that global terrorist networks were not rooted enough in Somalia to warrant US involvement there – militarily, diplomatically or financially. The policy of containment which was put in place really seemed to mean “we will watch the country instead of help to fix it”. To the frustration of the UN, Somali politicians and neighbouring countries, the US did not play an active part in the Somali peace and reconciliation process. Even more bizarrely, during the peace talks, the US security establishment preferred to work with warlords instead of helping to put together a Somali government. As a consequence, the US undermined the peace process itself. [continued…]