Continued Chaos in Somalia

Fighting continued this week between militiamen loyal to the Somali government and al Shabab, an Islamic insurgent group.  Mogadishu, the nation’s capital, has been subjected to mortar attacks and machine gun fire as militants try to overthrow President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s administration.  Al Shabab fighters also clashed with members of Ahlu Sunna, a rival Islamist group, in the central and southern regions of the country.

In addition to an insurgency led by Islamic extremists, Somalia is also plagued by criminal gangs, militias and other armed groups who engage in kidnapping, extortion, illicit trading and piracy.  Just a few weeks ago, US special operations forces killed three Somali pirates on the high seas during a successful hostage rescue effort.

Somalia has been chaotic since dictator Mohame Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.  Since then, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and more than a million have become refugees; millions of others survive on international food aid.  The nation is a classic example of a failed state where warlords, criminals and extremist groups thrive in the absence of a strong central government.  There is a danger that terrorist groups will establish bases in the lawlessless land where they could find safe haven.

The African Union is planning on increasing the number of peacekeepers deployed in Somalia to 6,000 sometime in the near future.  However, it is unlikely that such a small force will be able to establish order there, and it appears that the international community is unwilling to send thousands of troops to the impoverished country to quell the violence.  In the early 1990s, US forces were sent to Somalia to distribute food to the starving population and battle warlords, but the American military was withdrawn shortly after the notorious “Black Hawk Down” incident in which a dozen US troops were killed in an ambush, an event which might deter Western intervention.  However, there is a chance that US special operations forces and a relatively small number of military trainers will be sent there to help the weak government take on Islamic extremists and pirates who threaten American interests.

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