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Probing the Somali Hornets Nest

Prepared by: Eben Kaplan
Updated: December 5, 2006


The United States has asked the UN Security Council to consider a resolution to lift the arms embargo against Somalia and authorize a regional peacekeeping force for the failed state (AP). As it stands, the UN embargo is largely ineffective, as a recent report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia explained. Outgoing U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told reporters the aim of the U.S.-backed resolution is to “provide some measure of stability to permit a political solution” ( But experts say a peacekeeping force would do just the opposite. The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued an alert last week, cautioning “The consequence of an ill-considered intervention is likely to be more conflict.” This week, Arab League echoed similar warnings, and thousands of people rallied in Mogadishu in opposition to the U.S. proposal (

Somalia’s strife has deep roots. For fifteen years, anarchy has reigned in the nation on the tip of Africa’s Horn. But in the last year, a power group of Islamists ousted the warlords who traditionally wielded power. The Islamists are now threatening to overrun the country’s ineffectual, but internationally-recognized, transitional government. They have imposed sharia law and brought a degree of stability to the war-torn nation. But not everyone is happy with the change. Many observers describe the Islamists as an African Taliban (National Review Online), and suggest the country is fast becoming a terrorist breeding ground. On Wednesday, the head of the State Department’s Africa Bureau told reporters that members of al-Qaeda are operating inside Somalia in “great comfort.” Journalist and blogger Douglas Farah applauds the United States for finally acknowledging this situation, but says the current U.S. tack “in reality, is not a policy.”

Somalia’s interim government welcomed the draft resolution (VOA), but this is no surprise: The government is so incapable of defending itself that Ethiopia troops have taken up positions (BBC) around the government’s stronghold in the southern city of Baidoa to prevent an Islamist onslaught. Of course, the Islamists oppose such a move, promising “all-out war” (VOA) if the U.S. resolution passes, and suggesting they would seek the assistance of international jihadis ( to help fight any foreign presence.

The UN Monitoring Group’s recent report suggests the Islamists are already receiving help from abroad. The report says ten nations violated a UN arms embargo in order to provide support to either the Islamists or the government. It even went so far as to suggest that Islamist fighters traveled to Lebanon to join Hezbollah in last summer’s war, and that Iran has attempted to exchange weaponry for access to Somalia’s Uranium deposits. Though these claims met with much skepticism (Terrorism Focus), the committee reviewing the report agreed to forward it to the full Security Council without edits, though it did agree to allow the nations accused of violating the embargo to question the report’s authors (Reuters).

Writing in the Boston Globe, John Prendergast and Colin Thomas-Jensen, both ICG experts, suggest that rather than looking immediately to a military solution, the United States should invest in multilateral diplomacy. Two rounds of peace talks between the government and the Islamists have failed to make much progress, and renewed efforts to get the negotiations back on track appear to have fallen short (Mail & Guardian).

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