- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

Since the Somali government collapsed in 1991, Islamic groups have been gaining traction and support, often through promulgating a peaceful and stable alternative to the constant violence of rival warlords. This week, as Islamic militias ousted the warlords and took control of Mogadishu, the threat that from this failed state would rise an Islamic regime that is both breeding ground and safe haven for al Qaeda terrorism became too real.

Somalia is already a hideout for the terrorists who bombed American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and who bombed a Kenyan resort and tried to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane in 2002. “We do have very real concerns about the presence of foreign terrorists on Somali soil,” said Sean McCormack, State Department spokesman. The dangers of permitting an Islamist organization to come to power in a failed state were made all too apparent by the reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Mr. McCormack rightly stressed the need to “to fight the potential presence of terrorists in Somalia that might incite others to violence.” This is clear, but the means by which it can be accomplished are far from. The United States has no formal diplomatic presence in Somalia, watching the country instead from the embassy in Nairobi. While American military forces make use of Somalia’s small neighbor to the north, Djibouti, in the effort to limit terrorist movement in the Horn of Africa, the most recent U.S. efforts, according to reports, have been to fund warlords to carry out necessary counterterrorism operations.

Washington, while being cognizant of the perfectly understandable desires among Somalis for an end to the warfare that has ravaged their country, cannot accept an Islamic force with ties to al Qaeda assuming power in the name of restoring peace. The extreme Islamist elements in the group make its leadership a completely unacceptable solution.

Supporting the U.N.-sponsored secular government may, in theory, be a plausible course of action, but the fact that that government is too weak to even operate in Mogadishu indicates just how much progress needs to be made before it can fill the leadership void. Moreover, the makers of that government lack legitimacy in the eyes of most Somalis. It may be fair to observe the lack of nation-building efforts in Somalia, but under the circumstances, nation building is a daunting — if not outright impossible — task. Current policy, in light of recent events, is failing, and it is time for the United States to consider other approaches to the Somali front of the war on terror.

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