- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2007

Somalia and its neighbors in the Horn of Africa risk falling under the sway of al Qaeda and violent Islamist movements if the United States and its allies fail to back the transitional government in Mogadishu, a top Somalian foreign ministry official said in an interview yesterday.

“If we fail in Somalia, you will have [al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman] al-Zawahri’s men taking over Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, because he has the resources and determination if he is not stopped,” Daahir Mireh Jibreel, permanent secretary for international cooperation in Somalia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Washington Times.

Mr. Jibreel made his appeal on a day when U.S. officials in the region said that an air strike Monday in southern Somalia had failed to kill suspected senior al Qaeda leaders, including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the terrorist suspected of plotting the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Disputing earlier Somalian claims, a U.S. official in Kenya, speaking on background, told the Associated Press that eight to 10 Somalis with ties to al Qaeda had been killed, but not the top leaders targeted in the strike.

The official revealed that a small team of U.S. special operations troops has entered Somalia and is working with Somalian and Ethiopian forces to hunt down suspected al Qaeda operatives.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about Monday’s air strike, but called on the international community to step up efforts to stabilize the country.

“I believe we must make every effort to protect civilians and be cautious of other unintended consequences in this situation,” Mr. Ban told reporters.

Mr. Jibreel said the transitional government supported the U.S. strikes.

“We have full intelligence coordination with the United States on these individuals,” he said. “We want them taken out of Somalia, either dead or alive.”

Ethiopian troops in a Christmas Eve invasion routed the fundamentalist Islamic Courts Union, which had seized control of Mogadishu and much of the country’s south. The Bush administration and countries in the region had worried openly about the Islamists’ ties to al Qaeda and other jihadist movements.

Mr. Jibreel said he was not surprised by the Islamists’ sudden collapse and dismissed fears of an Iraq- or Afghan-type insurgency against the federal government.

“They had no popular support, either from religious groups or from the clans,” he said.

“Their leaders could not hide among the people, not in Mogadishu and not in the countryside, because the people would not let them. The idea that this is another Iraq or Afghanistan situation is wrong,” he said.

But Mr. Jibreel noted that al Qaeda’s al-Zawahri has explicitly called on Islamist fighters to target the Somalian government, which is struggling to re-establish effective central control for the first time since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted by the country’s warlords 16 years ago.

Mr. Jibreel said the transitional government had support from all of the country’s major clans, but needed Ethiopian military support because the Somalian Islamists had seized heavy weaponry from the country’s warlords. He said the government wants to see the Ethiopian forces leave, but not if their departure creates a “security vacuum.”

The State Department said this week it would consider a U.N. peacekeeping force for Somalia. Uganda so far is the only country to offer troops for a stabilization force, although other African Union countries may contribute as well.

Mr. Jibreel, who is meeting with lawmakers and State Department officials during his Washington visit, outlined an extensive program of U.S. public and private support for Somalia. The list included full diplomatic recognition of the government in Mogadishu, private investment, and technical and financial aid to build up the country’s civil service, security forces, and tax and legal systems.

The transitional government has been criticized for factionalism and corruption, but analysts say rising regional and international awareness of the dangers of a failed state could help Somalia.

“The coming months will determine whether Somalia emerges as a functioning state or follows the Iraqi and Afghan route back into anarchy,” wrote Nick Grono, vice president of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, in a recent analysis.

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