War on Terror shifts to Somalia
The Obama administration’s foreign policy is about to be defined. Who would have thought that the War in Iraq and Afghanistan would end up dominating the Bush Years? Now Somalia, a lawless country in the Horn of Africa and not far from Barack Obama’s ancestral roots could end having a significant impact on his presidency.
America will be out of Iraq by 2011 but already new battlefields are looming. The dramatic sea rescue of Captain Richard Phillips who had been captured by Somalian pirates is going to change and shape United States foreign policy during the Obama tenure.
President Obama did not fool around as the situation unfolded and ordered US Special Forces to engage the pirates should the life of Capt Phillips be in imminent danger. It took three exceptional shots from a distance by the Navy Seal snipers, using night vision scopes to kill all thee pirates on the raft without endangering the life of the trussed up Capt Phillips.
Earlier another pirate, who had been wounded in the hand when crew took back the hijacked Maersk Alabama, had left the life raft to seek medical attention from the Americans for his wounds. He remains in US custody.
Ship owners have been quite happy to pay ransom money to pirates for the safe return of hijacked ships and unharmed sailors in the Gulf of Aden. However, French Special Forces stormed a hijacked French yacht and killed the pirates as well the owner of the yacht in the beginning of April. The assassination of the Somalian pirates by the US Navy has upped the stakes considerably.
The Somalians have not taken long to carry out their promise for revenge against the Americans for killing their countrymen. An attempt to kill United States congressman, Donald Payne was made in Mogadishu on Easter Monday when mortars where fired at his airplane.
Payne had told reporters he met with Somalia’s president and prime minister during his one-day visit to Mogadishu to discuss piracy, security and cooperation between Somalia and the United States
Responsibility for the attack has been claimed by al Shabaab, a hard line Islamic insurgent group. Al Shabaab has been fighting in an Iraq style civil war in Somalia since the Islamic Courts Union was thrown out of power by the opposition, backed by Ethiopia in December 2006.
By December 2008 al Shabaab has taken hold of south and central Somalia in a two-year insurgency against the government and its Ethiopian military allies.
The mortar attack on the US congressman, presumably on behalf of the pirates, is being used by Islamic fighters to entice the United States onto another battlefield.
The decision by Barack Obama to use force against the pirates will see retaliation against America, partly from the pirates themselves but also from insurgency forces who will rouse the masses by saying they are defending sovereign soil against the foreign invader.
This war will be a bit different to Iraq and Afghanistan as sea warfare will be involved on the Somalian front.
“Foreign powers want to divide the country (Somalia] and the pirates are protecting the coast against the enemies of Allah,” Abu Mansur, an al Shabaab spokesman said on Radio Garowe. .
Just how far Obama must go down the pirate fighting route is a difficult question. It may be in the interests of America to allow leadership of a multi national force to go the French and to take a bit of a back seat in the War on Piracy.
Should ground forces be used to attack pirate lairs along the Somalian coastline, Al Queda aligned fighters from Africa and abroad could flock to Somalia to engage the enemy on a new front.
George Bush did not think of the consequences when he invaded a backwater country like Afghanistan and now America finds itself bogged down in a brutal guerilla war that has no end in sight.
President Obama must not make the same mistake in Somalia. The only losers should hostilities escalate, will be the people of Somalia who have suffered enough already.
Obama has signaled his intention to continue with the new American foreign policy of constructive engagement by sending an envoy to Mogadishu to engage with the Somalian government. An attempt on the life of Donald Payne must not cloud the judgment now.
Diplomacy is the answer to the pirate problem along the east coast of Africa. Nobody can fault America or France for looking after their citizens. Somalia must not be allowed to become the next Iraq either.