Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Horn of Africa a terror Key ?

From Pakistani news source, The News:

The rapid deployment of US military forces to track down Islamists fleeing Somalia has highlighted Washington’s conviction that the unstable Horn of Africa region is a key front in its war on terrorism. US warships deployed off the coasts of Somalia and neighbouring Kenya at midweek to prevent the escape of Islamic militants still being routed from their last Somali strongholds by Ethiopian-backed government forces.

The United States has also been feeding intelligence gleaned from spy satellites to Ethiopian units hunting for Islamist leaders along the Somalia-Kenya border, Kenyan officials said.

Washington says the Islamists, leaders of the Islamic Courts movement, which gained control of much of Somalia in the final months of last year, include prominent operatives of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization.

The top US official for Africa, Jendayi Fazer, went so far as to assert that al-Qaeda had taken control of the Courts last June, just as the movement began its lightning drive to take over Somalia, a country without an effective government since 1991.

While other US officials and Africa experts have contested the extent of al-Qaeda influence over the Islamic Courts, the meteoric rise of the fundamentalist movement looked like a nightmare come true for governments wary of Somalia becoming a beachhead for radical Islam in Africa.

“We’re concerned about the al-Qaeda threat worldwide, but the fundamental way to address that threat is to give stability to Somalia (and) not have Somalia be a safe haven for terrorism,” Frazer said in Nairobi on Friday.

Historically the strategic importance of the Horn of Africa lay in its position at the mouth of the Red Sea and potential control over access to the Suez Canal, said Marina Ottaway, an Africa and Middle East analyst for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Today, what makes it important is the fear of the spread of the influence of al-Qaeda to Muslim areas outside the Middle East,” she said. “Somalia and the Horn of Africa in general are prime targets for that.”

Government corruption, poorly controlled borders and restive Muslim populations have created fertile ground for Islamist militants in the Horn of Africa, a region of more than 160 million people comprising Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan.

The danger was highlighted in 1998 when Al Qaeda militants, using materials smuggled through Somalia, blew up the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people and injuring thousands.

Attacks in 2002 on an Israeli airliner and Israeli-owned hotel in the Kenyan port city of Mombassa also emanated from Somalia, US officials said. To counter the threat, the US military in 2002 set up a 1,500-member counter-terrorism unit - the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa - in a former French foreign legion outpost in Djibouti, just north of Somalia.

The US has also poured aid and military assistance into Christian-dominated Ethiopia, where Djibouti-based US counter-terrorism advisers have routinely joined army patrols roaming the country’s border region near Somalia. When the Islamic Courts were on the verge of over-running the Western-backed interim government’s isolated headquarters of Baidoa last month, Washington gave its tacit support for the Ethiopian offensive, which succeeded in routing the Islamists.

The subsequent US-Ethiopian hunt is focused on several key courts leaders, including Hassan Dahir Aweys, who led a group that carried out attacks on Ethiopia in the 1990s and has continued to make “irredentist claims on Ethiopian territory”, said David Shin, a former US ambassador to Ethiopia.

Frazer has said those wanted also includes three al-Qaeda militants involved in the 1998 embassy bombings and who were allegedly helping train the Islamists’ militia. Gayle Smith, a long-time observer of Somalia now with the Center for American Progress, cautioned against a US approach that focuses more on combating terrorism than dealing with the underlying frailty of Somalia, which allowed the radicalism to take root in the first place.

“The crisis we’re seeing is an outgrowth of a war on terror that we’ve defined pretty much as a global game of “gotcha’ - of trying to capture a lot of terrorists, which is important, but without also doing the much harder long term work of dealing with weak and failing states,” she said.

Hmm. Haven't heard much in domestic news regarding this. I'll give the Pakistani report the benefit of the doubt for now as far as US (rapid deployment of US military forces to track down Islamists fleeing Somalia) involvement goes. Oddly, the report does not really back it's ascertion that US forces have "deployed" in Somalia, unless one considers the "advisory" effect. We'll be watching this one for a while...