Somalia has not had an effective government for almost 20 years. The Somali government has struggled to gain relevancy, but it has been plagued by corruption and has been battling warlords and militant groups such as the al-Qaeda- linked al-Shabab.
This week Augustine Mahiga, the U.N.'s top envoy for Somalia, warned that more international peacekeepers are needed in the war-ravaged country because of the growing threat from insurgent groups. He also told the Security Council that he is concerned by the deteriorating security situation in Somalia and its potential impact on the entire region.
"The threat level in Mogadishu and southern-central Somalia has actually increased, therefore, IGAD and the African Union foresee a new AMISOM troop level of up to 20,000 in the coming months. The African Union Peace and Security Council will soon submit to the U.N. Security Council a request for authorization for increased troop levels for Mogadishu and other strategic locations in Somalia," Mahiga said.
Recently, al-Shabab fighters disguised in Somali military uniforms stormed a hotel favored by lawmakers in the capital Mogadishu, firing indiscriminately and killing 32 people, including six parliamentarians. The attack came after a warning was issued by al-Shabab that a new “massive war” is about to be launched against the government. The militant group wants to establish a Taliban-style Islamic Sharia law in the country.
In a similar attack in December 2009, a suicide bomber detonated himself at a university graduation ceremony about 1.5 miles from the recent hotel attack, killing 24 people, including three government ministers, medical students and doctors.
These attacks show that al-Shabab, which controls wide areas of Somalia, can penetrate even the few blocks of the capital under the control of the government and African Union troops. The situation is reminiscent of Afghanistan before the entire country was overrun by the Taliban.
Is Somalia the next Afghanistan?
The current situation in Somalia is eerily similar to Afghanistan in the 1990s, which was in total disarray, with no central government or functioning economy. Warlords battled freely over territorial pockets and small weapons were plentiful. Yet , very little news coverage has been provided in the West about the dangerous situation in Somalia today. The coverage has been sporadic, only making headlines when Somali pirates have attacked freighters and tankers.
I attribute the lack of the United States’ interest in Somalia to its raid there in 1993, when 18 soldiers and two Black Hawk helicopters were lost. At the time, U.S. troops were in Somalia to try to capture powerful Somali warlord Mohammed Aidid from his stronghold in Mogadishu and take him to a ship anchored off the nearby coast. This operation is often remembered as a tragic fiasco. Millions of Americans still remember watching the body of a dead U.S. soldier being dragged through the streets on television. This tragic incident and the U.S. involvement in two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, is enough reason for many Capitol Hill politicians to avoid US engagement in the war-torn country. Yet, it’s only a matter of time before al-Shabab takes over the capital and establishes a Taliban-like government, imposing its rule throughout the land.
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