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Attacks on Somalia openly discussed

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President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan

«Right now I don't think there are local or international terrorists in Somalia»

Somali President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan

afrol News, 29 November - While the US and UK governments have announced there will be a "Phase two" after Afghanistan in the "war against terrorism," German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder warns against attacks on "Iraq or Somalia". Ethiopia and separatist Somaliland already have offered their cooperation to the US in possible operations against Somalia.

- Make no mistake; there will be a Phase Two, BBC analyst Paul Reynolds writes in one of the large number of analyses about "Where next in anti-terror war?" appearing lately. All analyses agree; the most probable candidates include Iraq, Yemen and most clearly Somalia - the archetypical example of a "failed state" recently described by UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw. 

Analysts base their speculations on a row of facts. Links between Osama bin Laden's al Qa'ida and Somali fundamentalist organisations are well documented and the Somali Transitional National Government, in theory willing to cooperate against terrorism, barely extends its powers throughout the capital, Mogadishu.

Focus on terrorist organisations based in Somalia began already after the October 1993 shootout between US troops and militiamen of local warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed in Mogadishu, leaving 18 American soldiers dead. In the aftermath it was learned that bin Laden had issued a fatwa urging Somalis to drive the US forces out of Somalia and that Al Qa'ida had been training Aideed's militia.

The local Somali fundamentalist organisation al-Itihaad al-Islamiya was established under al Qa'ida supervision. Although al-Itihaad never managed to recruit many members in the clan-based Somali society, it became visible by its military training camps and as a social and political movement. 

Al-Itihaad, together with al Qa'ida, was held responsible for the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 200 persons. According to US government allegations, al-Itihaad's camps in Somalia had been the base of operation for these bomb attacks. 

The attempted establishment of a central government in Somalia one year ago, the first after ten years of disintegration, soon proved to fail. Although the majority of Somali warlords and fractions had agreed to the establishment, basically none of them have turned their control over territory or people over to the Mogadishu government. Outside the capital, armed warlords, including Aideed, still are in control. Only northern Somalia, in the self-proclaimed independent states Somaliland and Puntland, has experienced some degree of political stability over the last ten years.

Somalia thus seems the obvious target of "Phase two" to analysts. Pressure from regional players is also increasing to change the chaotic situation on the African Horn. Ethiopia, Somaliland and Puntland are crying out for operations against Somali territory - all following different motives. Also Kenya reportedly would be interested in having its northern neighbour turned into a more stable partner. 

Ethiopia has already offered its troops in a possible strike against Somalia. Plans are worked out, where the US is to "provide intelligence and training, and perhaps equipment and transportation, while Ethiopia provides the personnel to execute the operation. The use of regional allies could prove to be a model for anti-terrorist actions elsewhere," the 'Washington Post' reports, referring to "several [US] administration officials."

Ethiopia indeed is involved in Somali affairs. Ethiopian troops were engaged in battles against al-Itihaad inside Somalia in 1997, and still have troops patrolling inside Somalia. The Ethiopian government has consistently accused its neighbour of supporting al-Itihaad, seen as a threat to Ethiopia. Standing out as the principal US ally on the Horn also is seen being in Ethiopia's interest, further underlining its ambitions as a regional power. 

Somaliland, on the other hand, has been struggling for ten years to win international recognition of its independence. Being the most stable and somewhat democratic outpost of Somalia, Somaliland loudly presents its will to cooperate in the global "war against terrorism". 

Somaliland President Egal has already "offered the use of its landing strips and the harbour of Berbera," according to the well-informed German journal 'Der Spiegel', although it is not known whether Washington had responded to the offer. Egal's offer, although the Berbera harbour is a key access point to the region, has the difficult side effect of paving the way for a recognition of Somaliland's independence - a move that would cause protests by all African governments if not previously cleared with them. 

In Puntland, also "independent" in practical terms, but claiming to be willing to re-unite with Somalia when tranquillity and democracy has returned to the South, an internal power struggle is attached to the "war against terrorism". 

Violence broke out last week in Puntland, as forces led by its former president, Abdullahi Yussuf, seized control of the capital Garowe. Yussuf claims he is "not trying to cling to power," but in fact is fighting terrorism. He maintains the local elders who had picked his successor included members of al-Itihaad and therefore asked for international support in the supposed first battle against al Qa'ida's network in Somalia. According to several reports, Yussuf was aided by Ethiopian soldiers.

There are growing signs of preparations for US-Ethiopian operations within Somalia. Recently, several Somali private financial networks were shut down by the Bush administration for allegedly funnelling cash to al Qa'ida. The Spanish daily 'El País' also reported that the US simply had cut off Somali Internet access. In Ethiopia, residents of Somali origin are forced to register for "new identity cards". According to the UK 'Sunday Times', "intelligence officers from both Britain and America have been on the ground to gather information about terrorists."

Also officials in Washington and London are becoming more outspoken about "Phase two". "Targets linked to Osama Bin Laden in Somalia, Sudan and Yemen will be at the top of the hit list," the 'Sunday Times' writes, quoting "senior sources". 

- We have the wind at our backs and we don't want to lose it, a senior Washington source told the UK newspaper. Military preparations had also begun, "though plans to strike specific targets have not yet been finalised. The first targets, according to British sources, could be hit as early as late January if the war in Afghanistan is nearing its final stages by then."

Voices are however raised against such operations. In a speech to the German Parliament, Chancellor Schröder on Wednesday said Germany was not "simply waiting to intervene militarily elsewhere in the world, in countries such as Iraq or Somalia." Germany is to send some 4,000 troops to Afghanistan. 

- We should be particularly careful about a discussion about new targets in the Middle East, more could blow up in our faces there than any of us realise, Schröder said. The French Defence Minister on Wednesday supported the German view, saying "we do not believe that it is necessary to take military action against other sites." 

While Schröder warned about attacks on Somalia and Iraq, German Foreign Minister Fisher only mentioned Iraq, saying Europe views a widening of the confrontation "against Iraq with utter scepticism, and that is put diplomatically." Attacks on Iraq would provoke Muslim allies and Russia, European governments hold. 

An attack on Somalia, on the other hand, is seen as safer, as nobody has any illusions of the well-being of the Somali people under the prevailing system. Only the use of the predominantly Christian ally Ethiopia might provoke other regional Muslim countries and Somalis. 

Also some US analysts claim there would be little point attacking Somalia, as there were no concrete targets to attack. "Al-Itihaad has certainly had better days," Ken Menkhaus, a political science professor at Davidson College and adviser to the U.S. State Department and the United Nations, told the 'Washington Post'. 

He refers to the 1997 Ethiopian attack on al-Itihaad, which supposedly had eliminated its bases. Further, since the closure of the US embassy in Mogadishu in 1991, Washington has had little access to intelligence from Somalia. 

Meanwhile, the Mogadishu government is campaigning for its survival. Interviewed by the German journal 'Spiegel', Somali 'Minister of Foreign Affairs', Mohamed Alim, denied all possibilities of Al Qa'ida establishing itself in Somalia, even though his transitional government was not in control. "Nothing stays secret in Somalia," he assured.

In New York, Somalia's UN ambassador, Ahmed Abdi Hashi, has proposed "an international committee of inquiry under the auspices of the UN Security Council to investigate" the allegations Somalia was hosting terrorists. There are however widespread fears this proposition came too late.

- We had all kinds of terrorism by warlords and ... some very small groups of religious fanatics ... because of the absence of law in the country, Somali President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "But that was history ... right now I don't think there are local or international terrorists in Somalia." 

All international reports however suggest the opposite. Although there is disagreement about the strength of al-Itihaad, the organisation still is present in Somalia and, according to Ethiopian sources, it hosts several non-Somalis - supposed "international terrorists" linked to al Qa'ida. 

As expectations for US or US-Ethiopian operations are increasing, questions are now being raised what could be the possible "war targets" in Somalia. While some analysts fear the a limited action against al-Itihaad only would cause further war suffering in Somalia and the strengthening of regional power Ethiopia, others hope for more profound changes by a more far reaching operation. 

Having the Afghan war in mind, UN responsible for Somalia, David Stephen, hopes "the world will revisit its attitude toward failed states and be more wholehearted in getting them back on their feet," indicating the possible operations should be followed by the establishment of a central government effectively in control of Somalia. Somaliland's and Puntland's aspirations of becoming a US ally before a possible strike must be seen in this perspective. A large-scale operation in Somalia with the goal of politically centralising the "failed state" could threat Somaliland and Puntland independence if their recognition is not agreed upon in advance.

Sources: UK & US govt., press reports and afrol archives

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