Nation Building or Targeted Killings: Tough Choices for U.S. in Somalia

Nation Building or Targeted Killings: Tough Choices for U.S. in Somalia by Bennett Seftel - The Cipher Brief

The truck bomb that devastated the Somali capital of Mogadishu and killed more than 320 people on Saturday was the deadliest terrorist attack in Somalia’s history. But beyond the catastrophic loss of life, the horrific tragedy is a clear indication that al Shabaab, the group believed to be behind the attack, continues to pose a dire threat to Somalia and the Horn of Africa in its entirety.

“Al Shabaab has morphed to become more of a regional terrorist organization and should no longer be considered an insurgency group within Somalia,” Ambassador Phil Carter, former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea, told The Cipher Brief.

While Somalia has witnessed a significant uptick in al Shabaab-orchestrated violence in recent years, the country’s struggle with Islamist insurgencies dates back to the 1990s when a militant Salafist group with connections to al Qaeda, known as al-Itihad al-Islami (AIAI), fought against Somali troops during the country’s civil war. According to the United Nations Security Council, AIAI formed an alliance with al Qaeda in 1993 and supported al Qaeda’s bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998.

AIAI was eventually defeated by Ethiopian forces the early 2000s. But in 2006, a number AIAI hardline members — known as “al Shabaab,” or the youth — joined a movement of Sharia courts known as Islamic Courts Union (ICU) that sought to implement Sharia law throughout Somalia. They rebelled against the Somali government, and took control of the capital Mogadishu. U.S.-backed Ethiopian forces eventually invaded Somalia and drove the ICU out of the capital, but from the ashes of that revolt rose the contemporary al Shabaab organization…

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