Terrorist Havens in Somalia and Yemen

According to American officials, dozens of Al Qaeda operatives and some of the group’s leaders are leaving Pakistan and moving to Somalia and Yemen.  Members of the Obama administration, the military and the intelligence community have credited the increased level of drone attacks against Al Qaeda bases in the tribal areas of Pakistan as the reason for the exodus.

Although the displacement of some terrorists from Pakistan, a politically fragile country with nuclear weapons, is a positive development, the militants relocation to the Horn of Africa is troubling.  Somalia and Yemen are failed states and Al Qaeda could easily find safe haven there from whence they can plan and launch attacks against Americans and other civilians.  Al Qaeda militants in all three nations are reportedly communicating with one another electronically, which could facilitate terrorist operations but also enable American forces to more easily locate the plotters.

The terrorist threat in Somalia and Yemen is a matter of grave concern.  Although a major US troop deployment to either country to combat the militants is infeasible given the ongoing military commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American military could start launching airstrikes against Al Qaeda bases in those countries and send special operations personnel to train local security forces and carry out ground attacks.  Given the weakness of the governments in the Horn of Africa, it will be difficult to root out Al Qaeda from that area but eliminating some of the fighters would at least be a partial victory.

The increased presence of international terrorists in Somalia and Yemen highlights the need to prevent countries from becoming failed states and help strengthen those that already fall into that category.  Such a task will not be easy, and problems of corruption, internal conflicts and a lack of economic resources could make it almost impossible in some nations without a major international effort that would be politically untenable.  But preventing nuclear states like Pakistan and other places of major strategic interest from descending into chaos is imperative and should remain a major tenet of US foreign policy.

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