For months now, southern Somalia has been a warzone. Oddly enough, it has been essentially passed over by the broader media. This, despite what is tantamount to a region-wide military campaign. One of the few articles one is likely to find on the matter – a CNN piece dating back to 11 December 2011 last year – reported how the Kenyan Army, rolling northwards across the border, showed all the signs of lengthy preparation and build-up. Indeed, a second front had even been opened up by Ethiopia as it struck southwards with the backing of local militias. The inhospitable, famine-stricken lands south of Mogadishu (itself the site of fierce fighting,) were once the preserve of the Islamist militia Al-Shabaab (the youth in Arabic) – but now, thankfully, they find themselves on the run.
Therein lies my confusion as to the paucity of coverage on the matter. War, itself a horrible thing, can be turned to ends that deserve nothing but celebration; at least on first glance, the Kenyan intervention is one such case.
…it is known that women are frequently forced to marry Al-Shabaab fighters – and beheaded if they refuse.
In February 2010, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute, one of Al-Shabaab’s senior figures – Sheikh Hussein Abdi Gedi – had called for a jihad against Kenya. Indeed, there has been a long history of cross-border violence, with a recent case of kidnapped British tourists seized at a Kenyan coastal resort being but one notable example. Further, the organisation’s renown among Islamist circles is notable: British Muslims are known to be travelling there to fight in appreciable numbers. Within Somalia itself, The Telegraph reported on how whole schools of children are conscripted by Al-Shabaab to bolster their frontline strength. Worse yet, the organisation’s implementation of Sharia’a Law towards women is known to be nothing short of inhuman. Perhaps justifying themselves with a Quranic passage decreeing “men have a status above women” (bizarrely following from a vague point of their equality), it is known that women are frequently forced to marry Al-Shabaab fighters – and beheaded if they refuse.
Al-Shabaab, in short an East African adaptation of the Taliban, represents a pernicious, loathsome evil by any objective standard. Having said that, some argue that whether it will be crushed by the Kenyan assault remains uncertain. As noted, all indications point to a determined effort by Nairobi to annihilate the cancer festering on its northern border. Concerns have been raised over Al-Shabaab’s possible integration with the local Somali population – whether, essentially, they attained Mao’s infamous maxim of becoming fish in the sea of the people. If so, a difficult counter-insurgency (COIN) campaign may follow. Such is the argument.
…Al-Shabaab lacks the Taliban’s comparatively easy access to outside support.
In reality, the situation may be somewhat different. Afghanistan illustrates the difficulty of COIN in an unfavourable context, in terms of political, physical and human geography. In other words, when neighbouring countries actively provide shelter, logistics and finance to an insurgency (as Pakistan and Iran have done for the Taliban,) the task of suppressing it becomes much tougher. Moreover, if the geography of the area in question is difficult – such as in mountainous Afghanistan – closing the country off to that cross-border support network, or even finding domestic safe-havens, is also harder to do. Of course, should the local population share a cultural or political leaning to the insurgency (as non-or-Islamist-educated Afghan peasants seem to do) an entire additional facet to the campaign opens up as the COIN forces have to fight for human geography as well as physical terrain. However, as much as Al-Shabaab’s barbarism echoes the Taliban, Somalia is no Afghanistan.
With the comparatively minor exceptions of Eritrea and Somaliland, unlike the Islamists in Pakistan, or the dictators in Tehran, Somalia’s neighbours have nothing to gain from bolstering an insurgency. Indeed, Ethiopia has once before taken action against it, while Kenya was rightfully outraged with Al-Shabaab’s cross-border kidnappings. To greatly simplify things, with hostile neighbours to the north, west and south, and ocean to the east, Al-Shabaab lacks the Taliban’s comparatively easy access to outside support. Above all, Somalia’s population has endured war of one kind or another for decades; unlike the Afghans, they have little enthusiasm for much more.
…the courage to take up this mission and hope for a complete, unambiguous victory.
Kenya’s intervention has, by now, gone on for some months – with a degree of success. One of the reasons given for Al-Shabaab’s increased conscription of children is the need to find more “meat for the grinder”. Conventionally bloodied, they seem to be running out of cannon-fodder. Until Al-Shabaab’s system of Islamic totalitarianism and simple barbarism falls through, however, western leaders should throw in their full weight behind Kenya for having the courage to take up this mission and hope for a complete, unambiguous victory. After all, as Ayn Rand once wrote – “In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.”